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SEA GIRT -- Manasquan waited two weeks to get another chance at Rumson-Fair Haven, and with that opportunity the Warriors made history.

A complete team effort did it for Manasquan in an 8-4 victory over Rumson in the NJSIAA South Group II state sectional final on Saturday morning at the Sea Girt Army Camp. Freshman attackman Canyon Birch scored three times, junior attackman Jarrett Birch had one goal and two assists and junior midfielder Pat Felstedt sank a pair of goals against a Rumson defense that had allowed just three goals in three postseason games entering the final.

Manasquan's defense, led by junior Kyle LeBlanc, stifled a dynamic Rumson offense, while the face-off unit of junior FOGO Matt Thermann and wings Paul Krueger and Pete Degnan kept possession even throughout the game. It all added up to the Warriors exacting revenge for a loss to Rumson in the Shore Conference Tournament final and winning the program's first state title.

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"It's a huge step for this program," Felstedt said. "Beating a team like that and almost shutting them out in the first half; the defense did an amazing job, Tommy (junior goalie Tom Pollock) was phenomenal and we just capitalized on offense."

"It's amazing," LeBlanc said. "Especially beating Rumson after we lost to them in the Shore Conference Tournament. It means a lot."

Manasquan will play North Group II champion Chatham for the NJSIAA Group II championship at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Livingston High School. Chatham defeated Ramapo, 6-5 in double overtime, to win its sectional title on Saturday. The winner of that game advances to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

Manasquan led from start to finish, taking a 1-0 lead 2:19 into the game and leading 5-1 at halftime. The Warriors enjoyed a four-goal lead for much of the final three quarters, but it wasn't until half a minute remained that head coach Sean Cunningham allowed himself to relax.

"I think at the 30-second mark I finally let myself breath a sigh of relief and say 'wow, we just did it'," Cunningham said. "The fourth quarter was the longest 12 minutes of my life."

"This is one of the greatest feelings," Krueger said. "You're on the field and seeing the clock counting down and there's no way they're coming back. You're state champions."

The first meeting was an 8-5 win for Rumson on May 16 to win the SCT title. Manasquan was crushed after the loss, but vowed to rebound and put itself in position to potentially see the Bulldogs again with another title on the line. They felt some minor adjustments would pay big dividends.

"We felt pretty good about the first game even though they scored a good amount of goals because they had a lot of possessions where we forced a turnover but they picked it right back up," LeBlanc said. "Today we focused on picking up those ground balls when they were on the floor."

"We put together a good team effort on ground balls and it worked out."

Another stark change for Manasquan was on draws. Rumson senior Butch Clark won 11 of 17 face-offs in the SCT final, but on Saturday Thermann and Clark were essentially even with Clark unofficially going 8-for-14.

"The biggest turnaround from last game to this game was the Worm at face-off X," Cunningham said. "Matt - not to undermine what Butch did last game - was nursing a little bit of a wrist injury and Butch absolutely took it to him. This game we saw that 50/50 even split I more anticipated with those two because they're both such good face-off guys. Matt was rested and he came after it, and the wing play with Petey Degnan and Paulie Krueger and the two poles between Tommy Meyer and Chip Sarnasi was fantastic."

The bottom line for Manasquan was that in the areas it knew it could improve, the Warriors executed to near perfection.

"They dominated face-offs last time we played them and we scrapped for ground balls this time, and that made a big difference," Felstedt said. "Clearing the ball, we made some adjustments this time and got it done. On the offensive side we needed longer possessions. Last time our defense was gassed because we were playing too much. Our offense really settled it down."

Jarrett Birch's unassisted goal 2:19 into the game gave Manasquan (19-4) the early lead, and that quick advantage could not be underestimated. The Warriors' defense put the clamps on and kept the one-goal edge heading to the second quarter. Felstedt pushed the lead to 2-0 early in the second quarter and Canyon Birch and James Pendergist tallied 34 seconds apart to open up a 4-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first half.

"The first goal is always huge," Cunningham said. "They struck first last game and it was almost immediate, and then we had to play catch-up. We went up 2-1 and they immediately tied it, so we never had that sense of being able to relax and take a deep breath. Scoring the first goal and the way the defense was playing allowed us to be in control and have a little bit of wiggle room. We got that second goal, third goal, fourth goal and we were able to keep that cushion."

"We knew we could score and (the first goal) really sparked our momentum," Canyon Birch said. "Once we get going we're hard to stop."

Henry Sillen got Rumson on the board with an unassisted goal at 5:18, but Felstedt got it right back with 2:33 left in the half.

Manasquan extended its lead to 6-1 when Canyon Birch scored unassisted 1:24 into the third quarter, and the teams traded goals for the rest of the quarter, culminating with a steal by Jarrett Birch to set up Canyon Birch for an 8-3 lead going to the fourth quarter.

Griffin Schultz scored 54 seconds into the fourth quarter, but that was all the offense Rumson could muster against a locked-in Manasquan defense.

Now Manasquan will try to take another step and bring home a group crown to reach the Tournament of Champions. The Warriors just made program history, but they're still hungry for more.

"We definitely don't want to be satisfied," Krueger said. "We'll be back at practice on Monday and ready to play for a group championship on Wednesday. Hopefully from there we'll keep it going onto the T.O.C."

 

BOX SCORE

1-Manasquan 8, 2-Rumson-Fair Haven 4

Manasquan (19-4) 1 4 3 0 - 8

Rumson (18-4)      0 1 2 1 - 4

GOALS - RFH: Robbie Garavente 2, Henry Sillen, Griffin Schultz; M: Canyon Birch 3, Pat Felstedt 2, Jarrett Birch, James Pendergist, John Moran.

ASSISTS - RFH: Alex Werner; M: Jarrett Birch 2.

SAVES - RFH: Kyle Knapp 12; M: Tom Pollock 7.

SHOTS: Manasquan, 29-27.

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.