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TOMS RIVER — Having identified three major goals for this season behind its outstanding senior class, top-ranked Southern can now cross the first one off its list.

Senior attackman Dylan Jinks and sophomore attackman Kyle Mulrane each scored three times, junior attackman Nick Simonelli finished with two goals and two assists, and the Rams' defense kept Toms River North’s offense in check as Southern, No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, bested the No. 10 Mariners 11-4 in a Shore Conference Class A South game on Friday night at Gernerd Stadium.

The victory ran the undefeated Rams’ winning streak to 13 games and clinched the A South division title for the third consecutive season. Southern may have been the heavy favorite to once again take the division crown, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying.

“We never overlook any game or any championship we can get,” said senior midfielder Shawn McManus, who finished with a goal and two assists. “We knew we couldn’t drop a game this year because we would be at risk of losing A South. We had to come out today and bring it home.”

The Mariners (8-2, 5-1) entered the game also unbeaten within the division, meaning they could have clinched at least a share of the division title if they shocked the Rams (13-0, 7-0). And it was Toms River North that struck first when junior Ryan Clancy took a feed from senior Joe Vitiello for a 1-0 lead 2:20 into the game. Southern would respond with the next three goals, however, in a span of 2:18 to jump ahead 3-1. Senior Chris Smith set up Mulrane at 7:15 before Will Johnson scored off a pass from Simonelli just 17 seconds later. Exactly two minutes later Jinks blasted one past Mariners’ goalie Austin Bennett as Southern forged a two-goal lead.

Tom Butz would tally unassisted for the Mariners with 2:45 left in the opening quarter to cut his team’s deficit to one, and in the opening two minutes of the second quarter Andrew Lombardi fed Josh Francis for an extra-man opportunity goal to tie the score at three. The Mariners were fired up, but then Southern did what Southern seems to always do in a close game: blew it open.

Simonelli struck at 7:31 of the second quarter to give Southern the lead back, 4-3. It was the Rams’ first goal in 9:26, an eternity for their high-powered offense, and it jump-started a signature run that put the Mariners away in the blink of an eye.

Jinks scored unassisted at 6:45 and McManus tallied on his own at 6:03 to open a 6-3 lead. McManus then assisted on Mulrane’s second goal at 4:19 to make it 7-3. The Mariners had done so many things right over the game’s 16 minutes, but Southern has the unique ability to change the complexion of a game in just a few minutes. Jinks’s second goal with 2:35 left made it 8-3 at halftime.

“It’s great to be such an explosive offense because we can be playing decent and then in the next quarter put in six goals,” Jinks said. “Chris (Smith) wears them down getting face-off after face-off. We score and get the ball right back, and that just ruins the other defense’s confidence.”

“We are definitely a high-powered offense and can score from a lot of different areas, which makes us hard to guard,” said Southern head coach John Pampalone. “Obviously Dylan Jinks garners a lot of attention, but we have a lot of excellent lacrosse players on the offensive end, and once we start feeling it we tend to put up goals in bunches.”

Simonelli pushed the lead to 9-3 with a goal at 10:01 before Toms River North’s Mike Hoy broke Southern’s six-goal run at 6:11, cutting the Rams' lead to 9-4. Southern then capitalized quickly on a 30-second penalty on the Mariners with an EMO goal at 5:20 as Smith sank a goal off a quick pass from McManus. Mulrane capped the scoring with 27.9 seconds left in the third before the teams played through a scoreless fourth quarter.

An often unheralded unit, Southern’s defense held a balanced Toms River North offense to just four goals, including only one in the second half. More importantly, they weathered some long possessions in the first half and kept the Mariners from taking the lead while the offense got itself together.

“Credit our defense today because they really held them down after the beginning and gave us time to work and play through our emotions,” Pampalone said. “They stung us early, but our defense was able to stabilize the game for us to get on track offensively.”

“Big props to the defense because they bailed out our offense a lot and held them to just four goals,” Jinks said.

After completing the first goal on their championship list, the Rams will now turn their attention to the postseason. First up is the Shore Conference Tournament, which will be seeded on Sunday morning at Jackson Liberty and begins on Tuesday. The Rams are seeking to become the first Ocean County team to win the SCT and will be the No. 1 seed. Then comes the NJSIAA Tournament, where the Rams are the two-time defending South Jersey Group IV champions.

For this tremendous senior class that has come within one game of both conference and state championships the last two years, it’s now or never. They’ve been looking forward to this time of year ever since last season, but there is undoubtedly some pressure that accompanies the expectations.

“These seven or eight seniors that have been with us for so long, there was always the plan at the end of the season that if it didn’t work out there’s always next year,” Pampalone said. “Well now there’s no next year, so I would find it hard to believe they’re not feeling a little bit of pressure. But we’ve been in this spot before and they understand the stakes.”

“We’re not going to look past any game, that’s how you get upset and leave the field with a pit in your stomach,” Jinks said. “We’re just going to play each game like it’s our last.”



No. 1 Southern 11, No. 10 Toms River North 4

Southern (13-0, 7-0) 3 5 3 0 — 11

TR North (8-2, 5-1)   2 1 1 0 —  4

GOALS - S: Dylan Jinks 3, Kyle Mulrane 3, Nick Simonelli 2, Shawn McManus, Chris Smith, Will Johnson; TRN: Ryan Clancy, Tom Butz, Josh Francis, Mike Hoy.

ASSISTS - S: Nick Simonelli 2, Shawn McManus 2, Chris Smith; TRN: Joe Vitiello, Andrew Lombardi

SAVES - TRN: Austin Bennett 12; S: Brendan Lefanto 8.

SHOTS - Southern, 37-16.