Lacrosse – Group IV Final Preview
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Group IV Final
Who: Southern Regional (20-2) vs. Westfield (11-9)
When: Wednesday, 5 p.m.
Where: Somverville High School
Seeds: Southern: No. 1 in South Jersey; Westfield: No. 3 in North Jersey
State rankings - Southern: Star-Ledger: NR; MSG Varsity: No. 13.
State rakings - Westfield: Star-Ledger: No. 19, MSG Varsity: No. 10.
Previous championships - Westfield: 1986, 1987; Southern: none.
Road to the final - Westfield: defeated No. 14 Bergen Tech 15-2 in the first round, No. 6 Watchung Hills 8-5 in the quarterfinals, No. 2 Ridge 8-7 in the semifinals, No. 1 Bridgewater-Raritan 10-5 in the sectional final.
Road to the final - Southern: defeated No. 16 Marlboro 16-3 in the first round, No. 8 Eastern 14-5 in the quarterfinals, No. 5 Old Bridge 8-5 in the semifinals, No. 3 Lenape 11-10 in overtime in the sectional final.
Key players - Westfield: Jr. att. Luke Prybylski (43g, 15a); Sr. mid. Pat Decker (34g, 10a); Jr. def. Jackson Simcox; Sr. mid/FO Jack Kessler; Sr. att. Chris Aslanian (29g, 30a); Sr. mid. Dane Huber (11g, 18a); Sr. goalie Alex D'Amato; Jr. mid Pat Aslanian (28g, 13a); So. def. Matt McElroy; Sr. att. Chris Callahan (11g, 2a); So. att. James Bohlinger (7g, 3a); So. goalie Toby Burgdorf.
Key players - Southern: Jr. att. Dylan Jinks (92g, 42a); Sr. att. Brendan Mullen (60g, 39a); Jr. mid. Shawn McManus (50g, 39a); Jr. goalie Brendan Lefanto (243 saves, .738 save percentage); Sr. mid/FO Bill Dowd (.766 F/O percentage; 3g, 5a); Jr. def. Mike Adragna; Jr. mid. Chris Smith (31g, 30a); So. att. Nick Simonelli (24g, 13a); So. def. Evan Henken; Sr. mid. Brian Dunphey (12g, 5a); Sr. mid. Adam Eastburn (7g, 5a); So. LSM Anthony Triola.
Outlook - Westfield: The Blue Devils have to be the state's best 11-9 team. After playing a very tough regular-season schedule that included Chatham, Summit, Delbarton, Ridge, Seton Hall Prep, Ridgewood, Lawrenceville Prep and Pingry, Westfield went on a tear in the sectional tournament with wins over Watchung Hills, Ridge and Bridgewater-Raritan to claim the title.
The Aslanian brothers, Chris and Pat, have led the Blue Devils late-season surge and are two of six different players with double-digit goals. Junior attackman Luke Prybylski is Westfield's leading scorer with 43 goals, and senior midfielder Pat Decker has 34. Chris Aslanian, a senior attackman, is the feeder on offense with a team-best 30 assists.
For Westfield to win it will have to control possessions and put continued pressure on Southern's young defense. Senior Jack Kessler's face-off work against Southern's Billy Dowd will be crucial. The Blue Devils also have to find a way to slow down 92-goal scorer Dylan Jinks, which Old Bridge did in the sectional semifinals, albeit in a loss. Westfield would put itself in a better position by getting out to a fast start, which is something Southern hasn't been able to do consistently in the past two weeks. With a goal-scorer like Jinks on the other side, a tight game late could favor Southern as it has the best offensive player on the field.
Outlook - Southern: The Rams have won games in a variety of ways to reach their second straight overall group final. Come-from-behind wins late in the season over CBA and Barnegat, and a fourth-quarter rally against Old Bridge in the sectional semifinals plus an overtime win over Lenape to win the sectional title give Southern the confidence that it is never out of a game.
Southern's strength is its explosive scoring, led by junior attackman Dylan Jinks and his 92 goals. Senior attackman Brendan Mullen comes into the game with 99 points this season, and junior middie Chris Smith and sophomore attackman Nick Simonelli have been great secondary scoring options. The player who can have perhaps the biggest impact on this game is junior midfielder Shawn McManus. His two-way play has carried the Rams at times during the postseason, and against a team as balanced and battle-tested as Westfield his ability to make a difference at both ends of the field could be the deciding factor. Senior FOGO Billy Dowd could also fall into that category. His .766 face-off percentage is a huge weapon for Southern, and gives the Rams the opportunity to keep the ball on the sticks of its dangerous offensive players.
Southern's defense, led by junior Mike Adragna, is young, but has been able to come up with crucial stops in key situations. Junior goalie Brendan Lefanto has the stats and big-game results that prove he can get it done, and he'll have to produce a top effort here.
Despite the records of both teams, Southern is the underdog. The Rams are a program on the rise, but the Shore Conference as a whole has a lot of catching up to do with the teams in Morris, Somerset, Bergen and Union counties. Westfield isn't a juggernaut team like the Ridge squad that beat Southern in last year's Group IV final en route to winning the Tournament of Champions, so the Rams aren't coming in without a prayer. Still, Southern will have to play the best game in program history to become the first Shore Conference team to win a group championship.
The Shore is too strong in all of its other sports to go much longer without a lacrosse championship. Is this the year it happens?