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COLTS NECK — The Shore Conference Lacrosse Tournament has been ruled by the giants ever since its inception. A low seed, let alone a double-digit seed, has never had a chance to get anywhere near the championship game.

None of those facts seem to matter to Colts Neck.

“We came into this tournament, looked at our seed and said, ‘Who cares?” said Colts Neck senior defenseman Anthony Gargiulo. “This team has been playing together since seventh grade, and we knew what we could do. We knew once we got into this situation we’d step up and play as a team.”

This season of Shore Conference lacrosse has been the most balanced and competitive to date. The ‘any team on any day’ mantra has been the theme, and 12th-seeded Colts Neck is now the poster child.

Colts Neck junior Andrew Anzalone scored a team-high three goals to lead the Cougars into the SCT semifinals.

Two days after stunning fifth-seeded Holmdel, the Cougars held off 13th-seeded Lacey, 11-9 on Thursday afternoon, to advance to the SCT semifinals. Junior attackman Andrew Anzalone fired in a team-high three goals and Gargiulo and midfielder Alex Peltzman each scored twice to send Colts Neck (9-4) into the SCT final four for the second time in program history.

Colts Neck will play top-seeded and three-time defending SCT champion Rumson-Fair Haven in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Monmouth University.

“The fact that a 12 seed has made it to the semifinals, it’s pretty unreal,” Anzalone said. “I thought at the end (of the regular season) we really started coming together. The games (in A North) really prepared us for the Holmdel game and this game.”

Sophomore goalie Andrew Halmi finished with nine saves, including five in the fourth quarter, to help the Cougars hold off the Lions (12-4).

R.J. Stawinski led Lacey with three goals, and Pat Quinn and Pat Moore each registered two goals and one assist. Kyle Fisher made 15 saves, including nine in the third quarter that kept Lacey within two goals entering the final quarter.

Colts Neck held a 4-3 advantage heading into the second quarter thanks to goals by Peltzman and Rob Fierro in the final 1:16, completing a back-and-forth opening 12 minutes. Then Lacey put together a three-goal run in the first 3:43 of the second quarter to take a 6-4 lead. Stawinski hit a wide-open Ryan Mahon for a goal just 15 seconds into the quarter to tie the score at four, and Stawinski then gave Lacey a 5-4 lead when he finished off a pass from Moore on a fast break at 9:53.

Quinn’s great individual effort in which he smashed the stick and ball clean out of a Colts Neck defenders’ grasp, picked up the ground ball and scored on a short breakaway put Lacey up 6-4 at 8:07. It stood as the first two-goal lead for either team.

Momentum swung back in Colts Neck’s direction thanks to face-off wins by Julian Cruz and Rob Heller, and timely scoring from an unlikely source. Gargiulo, a bruising defenseman who is headed to the U.S. Naval Academy to play running back, stayed in the offensive zone after a clear and found himself in the box with a shooting lane in front of him. He blasted it past Fisher at 6:18 to pull the Cougars to within one. Two minutes and 18 seconds later, Gargiulo did it again to draw Colts Neck even.

Then it was Anzalone’s turn. The Cougars’ leading scorer was held off the scoresheet in the first quarter, but made his mark on the game with three goals in a span of 2:54 to give Colts Neck a two-goal lead at halftime. He scored off an assist from Fierro at 3:50, then off a feed from Jack Schaefer at 2:17. Bobby Sanborn drew Lacey to 8-7 when he scored off a draw at 1:16, but Anzalone’s unassisted goal with 56 seconds left in the half sent Colts Neck into the break with a 9-7 lead.

“We started winning face-offs and that led to a lot more shots,” Anzalone said. “We started putting them in, and we were rolling.”

“Once (Lacey) got those three goals it really clicked to us that we can’t just lay down and let them do whatever they want,” Gargiulo said. “We knew they were going to be a difficult team and they were, but we thought if our offense clicked, which it did, we would be able to do what we wanted to do.”

From there, Colts Neck’s defense went into shutdown mode, and when there was a defensive breakdown, Halmi was there to make several crucial stops. After a combined 16 goals in the first half, Colts Neck and Lacey would score just twice each in the second half. It wasn’t for a lack off offensive pressure, especially for Colts Neck. The Cougars dominated time of possession in the third quarter and peppered Lacey with 17 shots.

Fisher was huge for the Lions with nine saves to keep them in the game despite their offense registering just two shots on goal. Devin Gavrushenko gave the Cougars a 10-7 lead with a goal at 10:06, but Stawinski got it back when he finished off a quick passing sequence at 2:42.

Colts Neck sophomore goalie Andrew Halmi made nine saves, including five in the fourth quarter, to help the Cougars hold off Lacey, 11-9, and reach the SCT semifinals.

Peltzman’s second goal off a dish from Glickman at 4:44 of the fourth quarter gave Colts Neck an 11-8 lead. The goal came after Halmi made a pair of point-blank saves to keep the Cougars up by two.

“Halmi is a goalie that needs to see some shots before he starts to click, but he always does,” Gargiulo said. “He’s a phenomenal goalie, especially for a sophomore. You couldn’t ask for more from him.”

“Halmi’s been pulling us out of a lot of games with big saves,” said Colts Neck head coach Jeff Rosenberg. “I can’t say enough about Andrew. He’s keeping us in all these games, without a doubt.”

Lacey cut its deficit back to two goals when Moore scored off a pass from defenseman Casey Sullivan with 2:07 left, but Cruz won the ensuing face-off to allow the Cougars to run out the clock and seal one of the biggest wins in program history.

“I thought we really came together well; defense, offense, Halmi made some sick saves,” Anzalone said. “I thought we played together as a team and played really hard.”

Of the aforementioned giants that have ruled the Shore, No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven looms large as Colts Neck’s semifinal opponent. The Bulldogs dismantled No. 8 Manasquan, 18-4, in the quarterfinals and are searching for their fourth consecutive SCT title. In the last four seasons, Rumson is 53-1 against Shore Conference teams.

But for Colts Neck to let those numbers get in its players heads would go completely against their approach. And if there was a perfect time to play the best team in the Shore, it’s now.

“We could play anybody, and no matter who it is we understand that this is it, especially for the seniors,” Gargiulo said. “We have to step up and play to our full potential, no matter who we play.”

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Rosenberg said. “Now we have to face the No. 1 team, and we’ll see what happens. We’re peaking at the right time, and we’re excited.”


Box Score

12-Colts Neck 11, 12-Lacey 9

Lacey (12-4)       3 4 1 1 - 9

Colts Neck (9-4) 4 5 1 1 - 11

GOALS - L: R.J. Stawinski 3, Pat Quinn 2, Pat Moore 2, Ryan Mahon, Bobby Sanborn; CN: Andrew Anzalone 3, Anthony Gargiulo 2, Alex Peltzman 2, Rob Heller, Alex Glickman, Rob Fierro, Devin Gavrushenko.

ASSISTS — L: Dan Cannon 2, Ryan Mahon, R.J. Stawinski, Pat Moore, Pat Quinn, Casey Sullivan; CN: Rob Fierro 3, Alex Glickman 2, Jack Schaefer, Andrew Anzalone.

SAVES — L: Kyle Fisher 15; CN: Andrew Halmi 9.

SHOTS: Colts Neck, 40-24.