MIDDLETOWN -- After a great start to its Shore Conference Tournament semifinal game against Ocean, Christian Brothers Academy suddenly found itself searching for a way to regain momentum.

There was no panic from the Colts, however. Playing their best lacrosse of the season at the most important juncture affords that kind of confidence.

Fourth-seeded CBA broke a halftime tie with two goals in the third quarter before netting six in the fourth quarter, completing a stretch of eight unanswered goals to end the game for a 13-5 victory over the fifth-seeded Spartans on Tuesday afternoon. Junior attackman Nick Casner led the way with two goals and three assists, while senior attackman Shay Walczak had three goals and one assist and freshman attackman Connor Macrae also had three goals to send the Colts in the SCT semifinals.

CBA junior attackman Nick Casner. (Photo by Robert Badders).

CBA will play top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven in the first semifinal at 4 p.m. on Thursday at Long Branch High School.

"We didn't have a strong second quarter for sure," said CBA head coach Dave Santos. "We were sloppy and had penalties, and every time I felt like we were about to get some momentum we had an infraction or a penalty. They had a couple man-up goals to get back in it, but luckily we reorganized in the second half and we stuck to our guns."

"We jumped out on them early and we got a little complacent," said senior midfielder and team captain John Salcedo. "Once they got it to 5-5 we knew it was a real team and a very high-scoring offense with some guys that can put the ball in the back of the net: Erik Rant and Joey Appio."

Salcedo finished with two goals and two assists to reach 100 career points, while senior attackman Cologialo Muscara added two goals and one assist.

CBA senior midfielder John Salcedo. (Photo by Robert Badders).

The Colts (11-5) opened the game with three goals in the first 5:32 as Casner scored unassisted before setting up Walczak and Salcedo for goals to make it 3-0. Appio fed Rant for a goal at 6:43, but CBA responded with goals by Salcedo and Muscara to make it 5-1 with 31 seconds left in the quarter.

Ocean started a four-goal run when sophomore long-stick midfielder Richie Bianchi ran out a clear all the way to the restraining box before dishing to senior midfielder Connor Daly for a goal with 19.2 seconds left. The Spartans (12-2) then scored two goals in the opening minute of the second quarter as Appio fished to rant for an extra-man opportunity goal 19 seconds in. Senior face-off midfielder Alex Bravo won the ensuing face-off and raced into the zone before passing to Rant, who blasted one in to make it a 5-4 game.

At the 4:54 mark, freshman attackman Holden Lowe passed to Appio on the crease, and the senior attackman scored over the stick of Colts junior goalie Ryan McGuiness to tie the score 5-5 where it remained into halftime.

Surely the Colts must have changed something in order to completely turn the game around in the second half. Not so.

"We were going to make some changes to the defense, but you dance with who brought you," Santos said.

The Colts shut down Ocean's offense in the second half and held the Spartans to just 17 shots altogether. Their zone defense was aggressive when it had to be in keeping Appio, the Shore Conference's career leader in assists, from taking over the game with his playmaking ability.

"We just made it a point to get on his hands as much as possible," Santos said. "We said if we can occupy him and get him busy he's not going to have that vision, so that was our goal. He's a talented player so he was still able to create some chances for his team, but I think we kept him in check for the most part."

Appio finished with one goal and two assists to bring his career assist total to 213. The state record is 217 by Glen Ridge's Alex Lopes.

"Even in our zone defense one of the principles of that is to get out on hands and make it difficult to get free looks, free passes, free shots," Salcedo said. "At halftime we made that adjustment because we thought we were a little lackadaisical in the first half with that. We definitely turned it up in the second half."

Walczak scored off a pass from Ryan Madalone 1:48 into the third quarter to give CBA the lead for good at 6-5, and Muscara scored unassisted off a failed clear by Ocean to give CBA a 7-5 lead heading to the fourth quarter.

Ocean was far from being out of the game at that point because of it's potent offense, and junior goalie David Walk was also making some big saves at the other end to keep CBA from running away. The Colts would eventually bust the game open, however, with six goals in the final 12 minutes to punch their ticket to the SCT Final Four.

Macrae scored off a pass from Shane McGuiness to make it 8-5 at 3:22 of the fourth, then Casner took a feed from Salcedo less than a minute later to put CBA up 9-5. Casner set up Macrae for his second goal at 6:48 to put CBA up 10-5, and at that point it was evident CBA wasn't going to relent and give Ocean a window to come back.

"We know what that team is capable of, so scoring that first goal (of the second half) was huge," Salcedo said. "But it was about scoring that first, second, third, fourth goal and really jumping on them."

The biggest key to owning the second half was the face-off unit of senior FOGO Chris Hayes along with seniors Gordon Paul and Andrew Rooney on the wings. Hayes won eight of 10 face-offs in the second half.

CBA senior FOGO Chris Hayes and Ocean senior FOGO Alex Bravo. (Photo by Robert Badders).

"The reason we were able to do all that is because we started to win the face-offs," Santos said, "Chris Hayes in the second half was absolutely dominant and our wing guys, Gordie Paul and Andrew Rooney, were winning the ground ball war box to box. That changed the game. (Ocean) didn't get many possessions in the second half."

CBA's offense, specifically its ball movement has, been very impressive over the last two weeks. Nine of the Colts' 13 goals were assisted on Tuesday.

"We have great dodgers, but when we move the ball and that thing is hot we're at our best," Salcedo said. "We;re moving for each other and setting off-ball picks. That's something that's changed a lot in our offense. We're moving with a purpose and making things happen."

Walczak, Macrae and Dylan Johnston added goals in the final 3:30 of the fourth quarter to complete the victory and send CBA back to the conference semifinals. They will not meet a familiar foe in Rumson, which defeated CBA, 10-3, during the regular season. The Colts are eager for a second chance.

"We know we have a great team and a great program coming up," Salcedo said. "CBA and RFH are two top dogs in the Shore (Conference Tournament) for the 11 years it's been around. We want another crack at them. We had them here and when we played them it wasn't our best. They came out and took it to us. We're hoping to be more prepared this time. We respect them and they respect us, and it's going to be a dogfight."

"I think we're playing our best lacrosse of the year right now," Santos said. "We seem to be coming together and guys are sort of identifying their roles. We're gelling as a team way more than we were earlier in the season. The team Rumson sees on Thursday is going to be a different team than the one they saw a month ago."

 

Lacrosse editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.