Follow @ASM_Lax on Twitter for scores and news from around the Shore.

Click here for a photo gallery by Cliff Lavelle.


WEST LONG BRANCH — As the clock ticked down in the third quarter of Saturday’s Shore Conference Tournament semifinal game at Monmouth University, Southern Regional and its nuclear-powered offense looked like it had finally met its match.

Christian Brothers Academy held a three-goal lead with a shade over three minutes left in the third quarter, and goalie Evan Bynoe and a tenacious team defense were holding a Rams team used to scoring in double digits with its eyes closed to just one goal. To top it off, CBA has been at its best this season in the fourth quarter with rousing comebacks and scoring runs to bury teams. Southern’s outlook was bleak.

“We just needed one goal, and I really believed that,” said Southern head coach John Pampalone. “We knew if we could just get one it would pick us up.”

The Rams did indeed get that one goal, and the stick it come off of made all the difference. Rams junior attackman Dylan Jinks, the Shore Conference’s leading scorer, blasted a shot that singed the back of the net from 20 yards out with 1:12 left in the third quarter, cutting CBA’s lead in half and igniting a team waiting for its spark to lead the way.

“When Dylan scores, we go,” Pampalone said. “When he starts scoring it takes the burden and weight off everybody else's back and they settle in. The fourth quarter came and it was an avalanche, really.”

Jinks' goal set the stage for an incredible fourth-quarter comeback as the second-seeded Rams scored the game’s final six goals, including five in the fourth quarter, to upend third-seeded CBA, 7-4, in the SCT semifinals at Kessler Field. Junior midfielder Shawn McManus’s goal with 8:46 left in the fourth quarter held up as the game-winner to send the Rams (15-1) into the SCT final, where they will face top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven for the second straight season.

Southern junior attackman Dylan Jinks scored three goals in the Rams' 7-4 Shore Conference Tournament semifinal win over CBA. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle).

“We started gaining momentum right after that third quarter,” Jinks said. “After a couple shots we started finding the back of the net and it started rolling our way. It was a great feeling.”

“We’re a high-powered offense,” said junior goalie Brendan Lefanto. “Credit CBA for playing a hell of a game in the first three quarters, but when our offense started clicking it opened our eyes and we knew we could run with these guys.”

Lefanto finished with 13 saves, nine of which came during a first half that was dominated by CBA. He made several point-blank stops on CBA attackmen Thomas Deiner and Matt McGuiness, who were rolling hard off the crease.

“I knew I was going to have to make big saves this game and it wasn’t going to be easy at all,” Lefanto said.

“For years he’s been the most overlooked person on the team,” Pampalone said. “Nobody talked about Lefanto. He didn’t even made (A South) All-Division last year. He’s a three-year varsity starter, and he’s racked up a lot of wins. He’s a great player.”

Jinks and senior attackman Brendan Mullen each scored three times and added one assist to lead Southern back to the SCT championship game. The Rams will look to avenge a 14-5 defeat at the hands of Rumson in last year’s final, while also denying Rumson’s historic bid to win four straight SCT titles.

To get there, Southern had to find the groove it’s enjoyed nearly all season. Since a season-opening 8-6 loss to Lenape (10-7), the Rams had bludgeoned every team in their path leading into the SCT semifinals. During their 14-game winning streak they’d averaged 15 goals with an average margin of victory of 12.

First-quarter goals by Mike Convery and McGuiness gave CBA (12-3) a 2-0 lead after one. The Colts controlled the opening frame with a midfield and defense that was first to nearly every ground ball while employing an aggressive zone that kept Southern from finding shooting space. Southern came to life in the second quarter with 16 shots, and Mullen’s goal off a feed from Jinks at 6:58 cut CBA’s lead to 2-1 at halftime.

The third quarter was scoreless with more than half the time elapsed before CBA seemingly began to pull away. The Colts have proven several times this season they are a second-half team, and that fact did not bode well for Southern. Deiner backed in a defender on the left side and hit the back of the net just inside the far post on a perfect shot at 4:32 to extend CBA’s lead to 3-1. With 3:07 left, Deiner fed McGuiness in front to make it 4-1. Southern couldn’t solve Bynoe, and in a tight defensive game, CBA’s three-goal lead was daunting.

Southern junior goalie Brendan Lefanto made 13 saves to backstop the Rams into the Shore Conference Tournament final after a 7-4 win over CBA. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle).

With under 90 seconds to play in the third quarter, Southern’s fortunes began to change. Jinks entered Saturday with a Shore Conference-best and program-record 70 goals, but struggled to get inside or find shooting space. CBA’s slides were on point, and its strategy of making someone besides Jinks beat it was going as planned.

What makes Jinks such an elite scorer, however, is his ability to score from just about anywhere. With 1:12 left, Mullen flipped a pass to Jinks, who unleashed a cannon of a shot from 20 yards out to beat Bynoe up high and cut CBA’s lead to 4-2. Like an oasis in a desert, Jinks' goal brought the Rams back to life.

Over the final 12 minutes, Southern’s dominance was emphatic. Jinks backed in and scored at 10:56 to make it 4-3, and Mullen curled around the cage and fired a shot past Bynoe at 10:13 to tie the score at four. The Rams had finally dug themselves out of the hole, and the momentum then spread throughout the team.

Senior FOGO Billy Dowd won four straight face-offs in the fourth quarter, allowing the Rams to retain possession as their offense hit its stride. McManus picked up a ground ball and ripped it in at 8:46 to give Southern a 5-4 lead, completing the comeback. Jinks added an insurance goal with 4:40 left with another long-distance rocket, and Mullen iced the game with 2:15 to play when he drove in from the left corner off a restart and tucked it in for a 7-4 lead.

“We had our shots in the first quarter and everything wasn’t working for us,” Jinks said. “My shots were sailing, we hit a post on a man-up and their goalie played amazing and was standing on his head. That’s a great program, and it’s awesome to come here as an Ocean County team that isn’t known that much and get to back-to-back finals.”

“I was here in the beginning when CBA was already an established program, and we’d always seem to draw them as the last seed when they were No. 1,” Pampalone said. “They laid it to us for a lot of years, and to be able to play them on the same level and come away with two wins in a row over two years just shows how far Southern Regional lacrosse has come.”

Now the Rams get another shot at Rumson-Fair Haven, which beat 12th-seeded Colts Neck, 15-3, in the other semifinal. The Bulldogs defeated Southern, 14-5, in last season’s SCT title game, handing the Rams their first loss of the season and leaving a sour taste in their mouths. Southern would go on to win a sectional title and reach the Group IV title game, but the loss to Rumson still cuts deep.

“The only blemish last year’s group had was I don’t think we came out and competed at our highest level against them,” Pampalone said. “They may have still beat us and probably would have, but I don’t think we competed at our highest level, and these guys are looking forward to an opportunity to play them again. They’re the best team in the Shore Conference, the program that everybody wants to be. We’re just glad to face them again.”


Box Score

2-Southern 7, 3-CBA 4

Southern (15-1) 0 1 1 5 - 7

CBA (12-3)        2 0 2 0 - 4

GOALS - CBA: Matt McGuiness 2, Thomas Deiner, Mike Convery; S: Dylan Jinks 3, Brendan Mullen 3, Shawn McManus.

ASSISTS - CBA: Thomas Deiner 2; S: Dylan Jinks, Brendan Mullen.

SAVES - CBA: Evan Bynoe 14; S: Brendan Lefanto 13.

SHOTS: Southern, 43-30.