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PENNINGTON — Robbie Garavente had to double-check to see if the ball had actually gone in. Head coach Andy Eastwood had to look again to be sure the shot hadn’t just hit the outside of the net.

Their eyes had not deceived them. Charlie Curran’s shot had indeed zipped past Mountain Lakes goalie Kevin Beimfohr, and for the first time ever Rumson-Fair Haven had won the NJSIAA Group I title.

After scoring the game-tying goal with 15 seconds left in regulation, Curran, a sophomore attackman, scored the biggest goal in Rumson lacrosse history when he curled around the cage and sank the game-winning goal with 1:03 left in overtime to give the Bulldogs a 9-8 victory over two-time defending Group I champion Mountain Lakes on Wednesday night at Hopewell Valley High School’s Ackerson Field.

“I couldn’t believe it, it’s unreal,” Curran said. “I didn’t think it would be open at first, but I’m a born attackman and I had a shortie from behind the net. I live there and I love it, so I had the confidence I could take him.”

“I don’t have much words for this, it’s incredible,” said senior midfielder Lucas Seckler. “Curran came around the cage and I was right there in case he needed my help, but he buried it and I just went down. I couldn’t control myself. It was just too emotional.”

Curran’s late heroics gave Rumson its first NJSIAA Group championship in program history in its second appearance, and put the Bulldogs in the record book as the first Shore Conference team to claim a state Group title. They now advance to the Tournament of Champions beginning Saturday at Basilone Field in Bridgewater. The TOC will be seeded upon completion of today’s Group IV final between Bridgewater-Raritan and Lenape.

Photo by Bob Badders

From an 0-4 start to Group I champions, it has been an exceptional ride for Rumson this season. Entering the season with just six total seniors and four returning varsity starters, the Bulldogs were not expected to have a vintage Rumson season let alone compete for a state title. They battled through that rough start and shook off a lop-sided loss in the Shore Conference Tournament final to catch fire in the state tournament and bring home the most important piece of hardware a local team has ever won.

“I couldn’t be any more proud of these guys,” Eastwood said. “My belief in them never wavered. We knew we could get through those tough patches in the beginning of the season. This is a bunch of talented guys with a tremendous amount of heart, and they’ve been working for this day for a long time.”

“We’re a much different team than we were in the beginning of the season,” Garavante said. “We started 0-4 and we had only four seniors, but we knew it was going to come. And as Lucas said we knew we were going to peak at some point. We knew we had the talent to get here, and we pulled together and got the job done.”

Mountain Lakes held an 8-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter on goals by Ryan Frawley and Zander Kotsen that snapped a 6-6 tie in the third quarter, but those were the last two goals the Lakers would score this season. Junior attackman Griffin Schultz curled around the cage - a harbinger of things to come - and scored unassisted with 5:16 left in regulation to pull Rumson to within 8-7. Then things started to get crazy.

A shot from Brad Landry looked to have gone in to give Mountain Lakes (16-6) a two-goal lead with under two minutes left, but the shot had actually hit the outside of the net. Rumson still had life with 1:12 remaining.

Junior midfielder Lachlan Hull ran the ball upfield attempting to clear, but just as he crossed midfield he was stick-checked from behind and the ball popped free. Hull frantically chased the ground ball and made a phenomenal play when he slid and swept the ball forward and under a Mountain Lakes player’s stick. Senior midfielder Seamus Walsh was there to pick up the ground ball and get possession, and Rumson was able to call timeout with 57 seconds left. Walsh was crushed out of bounds, as well, and that penalty gave Rumson an extra-man opportunity with under a minute left. This was the Bulldogs’ chance.

A low shot from Seckler whistled just wide midway through the possession, and upon the restart Schultz passed from behind the net all the way out to Seckler at the top of the formation. Seckler dished right to Matt Waters, who then fed Curran at his right. The sophomore was all alone with Beimfohr, and he ripped in a left-handed shot to tie the score with 15 seconds left in regulation.

“I definitely had the look and I knew I had to finish it,” Curran said. “I picked a corner and did it.”

Mountain Lakes won the ensuing face-off, but Rumson’s defense got the stop to send the game to overtime tied at eight. Rumson was now one goal from history.

Mountain Lakes won the draw to start overtime and immediately called timeout. Once again Rumson’s defense, which allowed just two goals throughout the second half and overtime, came up huge. The Lakers couldn’t find a clean shot, and an errant pass bounced into the Rumson offensive zone and out of bounds. It was now Bulldogs ball with 2:17 left in overtime. They wanted at least one possession, one shot at victory, and here it was.

Early in the possession Schultz came around the net looking for a shot, but slipped on the wet turf and had the ball knocked loose. A mad scramble ensued, and it was sophomore midfielder Bryan Hess who emerged from the scrum with the ground ball for Rumson. Hess circled all the way around the net and fired a shot from 10 yards out that went wide. Off the restart Schultz passed to Curran at the top of the box, and the hero in waiting backed it out to the 40-yard line before starting his winning run.

Curran was looking for a wing player at X to pass to, but since no one was there he took it behind the net himself. He dodged to get some separation from his defender and moved to the front of net, turning and firing in one motion to whip a shot over Beimfohr’s right shoulder. The back of the net rippled and sticks and helmets began to fly as the Bulldogs celebrated like never before.

“It was completely insane,” Schultz said.

“It’s indescribable,” Walsh said. “As a senior, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

Even more remarkable than a sophomore scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals in the biggest game in program history was his ability to recognize a broken play and make something happen on his own.

“That last goal was all freelancing,” Eastwood said. “They came out and shut off Robbie. We gave them a couple of plays to run off the timeout and then told them to run our freelance plays. Charlie found a seam, and he took full advantage.”

Rumson seniors (left to right) Jack Moore, Seamus Walsh, Lucas Seckler and Cooper Cuje hold the NJSIAA Group I championship trophy. (Photo by Bob Badders).

Rumson was looking for a fast start, but it was Mountain Lakes that instead jumped out to a 4-1 lead after the first quarter. Despite the three-goal deficit, Rumson felt good because it had been able to generate quality scoring chances over the first 12 minutes. On their first possession the Bulldogs got off five shots, and finished with an 11-4 shots advantage after one quarter. The difference was Beimfohr, who made four key saves early.

Seckler blasted one in from 12 yards out to make it 4-2 at 10:26 of the second quarter, but Frawley put the Lakers back up by three off a feed from Duke-bound senior attackman Brad Smith less than a minute later. Rumson got back into the game when junior attackman Henry Sillen fed Waters for an EMO goal at 4:51 to make it 5-3, and Schultz scored a huge goal when he converted short-handed with 3:32 left in the half to make it 5-4.

Smith got it right back for Mountain Lakes, however, for a 6-4 lead 22 seconds later. Then came the delay.

Rain and lightning delayed the game for nearly two hours, but when the game finally resumed Rumson began right where it left off. Schultz scored his second with 1:15 left in the first half to make it 6-5, and Hess then scored unassisted less than two minutes into the third quarter to tie the score at six.

“That was huge,” Seckler said. “It almost seems we’re in a better position down one or two going into the half because it lets us stay aggressive and makes us go that much harder. We clawed back.”

“We were the most confident we had ever been going into the day,” Walsh. “We were down 6-4, but we thought we had them on their heels.”

Mountain Lakes would get the next two tallies to regain its two-goal edge, but, in a microcosm of its season, Rumson refused to go away. The Bulldogs didn’t let an 0-4 start get them down, didn’t let a lop-sided midseason loss to St. Augustine stop their momentum, and didn’t let a loss to Southern in the Shore Conference Tournament final send them spiraling out of control. In this game and in this season, they finished strong.

There’s no debating this is a special group of lacrosse players Rumson has on its roster, not just because they won the Group I championship in thrilling fashion on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs did it when no one expected they could, and beat an all-time program and a legendary coach to make history. Through all the ups and downs they continued to come together and grow as a team, and the result was complete joy under the lights at Hopewell Valley.

“It just shows our heart and true grind,” Seckler said. “You know the way we started off, but we climbed back and we weren’t stopping. We wanted to make history here.”

“We’ve been the underdog almost the whole tournament,” Schultz said. “I think a lot of people doubted us, but we got it done and it feels great.”

Rumson’s players may have awakened Thursday morning not sure if what happened a few hours earlier was actually real and not just a dream. There was no need to pinch themselves. The Bulldogs are the NJSIAA Group I champs.

The dream is now reality.

 

BOX SCORE

NJSIAA GROUP I CHAMPIONSHIP

Rumson-Fair Haven 9, Mountain Lakes 8 (OT)

Rumson-Fair Haven (18-6) 1 4 1 2 1 — 9

Mountain Lakes (16-6)        4 2 2 0 0 — 8

GOALS - RFH: Griffin Schultz 3, Charlie Curran 2, Lucas Seckler, Henry Sillen, Bryan Hess, Matt Waters; ML: Ryan Frawley 3, Brad Smith 2, Chet Morgis, Zander Kotsen, Brad Landry.

ASSISTS - RFH: Griffin Schultz, Henry Sillen, Matt Waters; ML: Brad Smith 3, Will Ratchford, Ryan Frawley.

SAVES - RFH: Kyle Knapp 9; ML: Kevin Beimfohr 11.

SHOTS - Rumson 38-15.