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Photo gallery by Ray Richardson

TOMS RIVER — Rumson-Fair Haven saw what Freehold Township’s Billy Sasso did to Christian Brothers Academy in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and vowed to not let him do the same to them in the semifinals.

The Bulldogs did that and more on Saturday morning at Toms River East. In fact, they made sure no Patriots player beat them at all.

Seniors Jack Moore and Cooper Cuje led a brilliant defensive effort while juniors Matt Waters, Griffin Schultz and Robbie Garavente each had a goal and an assist as second-seeded Rumson blanked sixth-seeded Freehold Township 6-0 to advance to the Shore Conference Tournament final.

“Coach made a great decision putting a pole on him, and he’s clearly their best offensive player,” Moore said of the gameplan to limit Sasso. “We just executed the gameplan and stayed on his hands.”

While it was a complete defensive effort from sophomore goalie Conor Deverin, the defensemen and the midfielders, Moore was the one matched up on Sasso for the majority of the game.

“He stepped up to the challenge,” said Rumson head coach Andy Eastwood. “Everybody knew what Sasso did the other day, and he just rose to the occasion. He’s been playing great the last half dozen games or so. We knew the matchups we wanted and everybody executed.”

The Bulldogs (12-5) will face top-seeded and undefeated Southern Regional at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Monmouth University, where they will try to bring home an unprecedented fifth consecutive title.

Sophomores Bryan Hess and Charlie Curran and senior Lucas Seckler also scored for Rumson while Deverin made five saves. It all added up to the Bulldogs' eighth straight win and their sixth straight trip to the conference title game.

“What I said to them after the game is that we executed the gameplan to perfection,” Eastwood said.

Junior face-off man Butch Clark along with Moore and junior Lachlan Hull on the wings played just as integral a part as the set defense did in shutting down Freehold Township by nullifying Sasso’s usual dominance on draws. It was a down-and-dirty battle for face-off supremacy all game, and only three times was there even a clean win by either player. But Clark was able to tie Sasso up to prevent him from winning draws with ease, and that’s when Rumson’s players swarmed to win the 50/50 balls. Of the 10 face-offs in the game, Rumson came away with possession on seven of them.

“I think it was a really big part of the game,” Clark said. “I have to give credit to the wings. I wasn’t winning them all but every time there was a ground ball they were there to pick it up. We won all the 50/50s and that’s a big reason why we won 6-0.”

“We knew they were pretty formidable on draws and wing play,” said Moore, who had five ground balls. “A lot of credit to Lachlan Hull, he’s a great player. I just came in and did what was expected of me. Butchy Clark really did a good job tying him up and making for those one-on-one matchups where we can play out in space, and that’s where we succeed.”

“Part of our gameplan was to limit their transition game off the face-off and we also executed that very well,” Eastwood said.

Hess got the scoring started with drive and left-handed finish with 6:08 left in the first quarter. This came after a great opening possession by Freehold Township (13-5) where it did everything but put the ball past Deverin. The Patriots outshot the Bulldogs 10-6 in the first quarter, and when it concluded with Rumson holding a 1-0 lead it seemed like it was going to be back and forth the whole way.

Rumson senior defenseman Cooper Cuje was part of the Bulldogs' tremendous defensive effort in shutting out Freehold Township, 6-0. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Rumson never yielded anything defensively, however, all the while picking its spots and winning the ground ball battle, 25-20. Possession seemed to tilt Rumson’s way more and more as time passed, and the shots on goal reflected that. The Bulldogs added two more goals in the second quarter while out-shooting the Patriots 9-3. Waters took a feed from Seamus Walsh at 10:22 and Garavente scored unassisted at 8:42.

The closest Freehold Township came to scoring in the first half came when senior attackman Brandon Nunez had a shot ring off the crossbar in the final minute of the second quarter.

Freehold Township was still in good position, it seemed, to be down just 3-0 in a half where little went right. The Patriots defense continued to play solid, but Rumson’s defensive shell just couldn’t be broken. Seckler converted off a pass from Waters at 8:31 of the third quarter to push the lead to 4-0 and Curran blasted one in off a dish from Schultz while on an extra-man opportunity with 5:34 to go in the third.

“We kept pressuring out on their attackmen and letting the middies get them the ball because we didn’t want the middies to start it,” Cuje said. “They have Sasso and we wanted to keep it away from him and make their attack initiate offense.”

Schultz tacked on another goal for Rumson in the fourth quarter on a play that started when Garavente picked up a ground ball just inside midfield, sprinted down the right side and dished to the middle to Schultz. The goal came at 9:41 of the fourth, and it was more than enough for Deverin and the Bulldogs defense, which secured the third shutout of the season.

There were plenty of question marks surrounding Rumson to start the season given that it entered having graduated a remarkable senior class that was instrumental to the team’s success over the past two seasons. It was a rocky start with the Bulldogs dropping their first four games, including a 16-14 setback to Southern. But since then they’ve won 12 of 13 games, including eight in a row after Saturday’s victory.

It took some time to find their rhythm, but it appears now they are running on all cylinders.

“It’s been a process of growth and development, not only for the young guys but the older guys playing with them,” Eastwood said. “They had to learn to trust one another. The continuity is coming together right when we need it to.”

“That start was hard but I wouldn’t say we were worried,” Moore said. “I was pretty prepared for that. There were a lot of question marks and answering them took time and effort.”

Now Rumson will take on Southern for the third consecutive season in the SCT final. The Bulldogs defeated Southern 14-5 in 2013 and 17-10 last season. Southern beat Rumson for the first time earlier this season, 16-14, so the Rams will come in confident. But now, after enduring some trials and tribulations early on, so will the Bulldogs.

“It’s a great rematch, and I love that they don’t like us and we don’t like them,” Moore said. “I love (Southern senior) Dylan Jinks, played with him as a young kid and he’s a great guy, but this is a rivalry. It’s the best part of this sport.”

 

BOX SCORE

Shore Conference Tournament

Semifinals

2-Rumson-Fair Haven 6, 6-Freehold Township 0

Freehold Township (13-5)   0 0 0 0 — 0

Rumson-Fair Haven (12-5) 1 2 2 1 — 6

GOALS: Bryan Hes, Matt Waters, Robbie Garavente, Lucas Seckler, Charlie Curran, Griffin Schultz.

ASSISTS: Seamus Walsh, Matt Waters, Griffin Schultz, Robbie Garavente.

SAVES - FT: Matt Schroepfer 10; RFH: Conor Deverin 5.

SHOTS: Rumson, 35-18.