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NEW PROVIDENCE — Saddled with expectations year after year yet looked as being in rebuilding mode to start the season, Rumson-Fair Haven faced some tough times during the 2015 season.

When it mattered most, however, the Bulldogs proved once again they know how to deliver.

Junior attackman Griffin Schultz scored three goals with three assists, junior attackman Robbie Garavente scored twice with three assists and senior midfielder Seamus Walsh and sophomore midfielder Bryan Hess each scored twice as the Bulldogs went on the road and defeated New Providence 12-8 to win the NJSIAA South Group I sectional title on Saturday afternoon.

Photo by Bob Badders

“Coach believed in us right from the beginning of the season and said we could get here,” Schultz said. “We didn’t have as much pressure as last year since we lost a lot of seniors, but we got here and we got the job done. We all believed we could.”

“Coming into the season not a lot of people had faith in us having just six seniors and four returning varsity players,” said senior midfielder Lucas Seckler. “We had some rough patches, but we peaked at the right point. We knew we were going to get it together, and it happened perfectly for the postseason.”

Junior goalie Kyle Knapp made 10 saves and the defensive core of seniors Cooper Cuje and Jack Moore, junior Ian Clarke and sophomore Emmet Jennings held the Pioneers to just four goals entering the fourth quarter. New Providence, which came in averaging 12.5 goals per game and having scored less than 10 in just four of its 20 games, went on a run with four goals in the final five minutes of regulation, but Hess’s goal with 1:06 to play sealed Rumson’s second sectional title in its third straight appearance.

Rumson will play North Group I champion Mountain Lakes on Wednesday. The sites and times of the group championships will be decided by the NJSIAA on Sunday, according to tournament regulations posted on its website. The sites are either Hopewell Valley, Livingston or Ridge, and the times are 5 or 7:30 p.m.

Walsh put Rumson (17-6) up 10-4 when he scored off a pass form Garavente with 9:25 left in regulation. The Pioneers' offense had been held in check until Jack Harvey ignited a four-goal run in the final five minutes that threatened to steal the title.

One of New Jersey’s most dangerous offensive players, Harvey entered the game with 83 goals and 65 assists and finished with four goals and two assists on Saturday. He had a hand in all four of New Providence’s fourth-quarter goals, scoring twice and assisting on goals by Quinn Killeen and Tyler Lawton. After the Pioneers’ fifth straight face-off win, Harvey’s goal with 1:18 left in the game cut Rumson’s lead to 11-8. Rumson was able to control possession off the next face-off, however, and Hess put an end to New Providence’s comeback bid with the Bulldogs’ 12th and final goal.

As good as Rumson has been over the past decade, few outside the program figured the Bulldogs would be celebrating with a state sectional championship trophy being passed around when the season began. Rumson graduated 18 seniors from a team that won four straight Shore Conference Tournament titles and in 2013 pushed perennial juggernaut Mountain Lakes to the brink before falling 8-6 in the Group I title game.

Talent was present thanks to a fantastic feeder program, but it was going to be an uphill battle to get back to that point this season. Rumson started off 0-4 with losses to Caldwell, Summit, Bridgewater-Raritan and Southern, and would fall to St. Augustine a few weeks later before losing again to Southern in the Shore Conference Tournament final. All five teams to defeat Rumson had great seasons, and Summit and Bridgewater also won sectional titles on Saturday.

After the 0-4 start, Rumson would win 12 of its next 14 games. Along the way the young team started to find its identity, and all the while the group’s confidence continued to grow. Losing by 10 goals to Southern in the Shore Conference final looked like it could be the Bulldogs’ undoing heading into the playoffs, but they were able to shake it off and move forward.

“It hurt for a few days, but we sat down as a team and said we have to move forward and run the table in states,” Seckler said.

“Losing 18 seniors was tough for us, but we knew we had a group that was almost equivalent in talent,” Garavente said.  “We knew we could accomplish the same goals. Even though we lost in the Shore Conference final, coming back and winning the sectional title means a lot for this program.”

“It’s a testimony to their character and development as young men,” said Rumson head coach Andy Eastwood. They’re growing as lacrosse players and young athletes, and my hat’s off to them.”

The biggest takeaway from the loss to Southern was that they had to come out with energy or risk suffering the same fate. They did exactly that from the opening draw against New Providence (17-4), and a couple of shots off the post were the only things preventing Rumson from grabbing a quick lead. The Bulldogs kept the pressure up, and got on the board when Garavente scored unassisted with 5:39 left in the first. Harvey tied the score at 3:09 off a pass from Killeen, but Garavente scored his second a minute later and Schultz netted a goal with 33 seconds left for a 3-1 lead. Schultz then set up junior attackman Henry Sillen early in the second quarter for a 4-1 advantage.

“We knew we couldn’t start flat,” Garavente said. “We had to come in and put in a couple early and then lock down on defense, and we did that. That’s what we’ve done since that Southern game.”

“That was huge,” Seckler said. “We had to come out going 212 (the temperature water boils), our motto. It worked on Thursday (6-5 win over Madison in the semifinals), and it carried over to today.”

Steve Anderson’s goal at 8:01 cut Rumson’s lead to 4-2, but Seckler found the back of the net with a blast off the right side to make it 5-2. An extra-man goal by Harvey at 3:23 made it 5-3 at halftime.

Rumson took over in the third quarter with four of the five goals, including two in the final 2:30. Garavente fed Schultz for an EMO goal 14 seconds into the second half to push the lead the 6-3, but Killeen got it back less than a minute later to keep New Providence within two goals. With 6:14 left in the third, Schultz dished to a wide-open Curran, who had time to step into a shot and rip it past Garrett Pope to make it 7-4. With 2:26 left Walsh took a pass from Schultz and scored for an 8-4 lead, and with 1:02 remaining in the third Hess found a rebound off a shot by Schultz and flipped it in to give Rumson a five-goal lead, its largest of the game.

“We said at halftime we needed to come out and continue what we were doing on offense,” Garavente said. “To come out in the second half and put a couple in early and extend that lead was huge for us.”

While the offense was operating efficiently and taking advantage of its opportunities in going 2-for-2 with the extra man, the defense was stifling the Pioneers' versatile attack. Walsh and fellow midfielder Lachlan Hull couldn’t be beaten one-on-one by their counterparts, and that enabled the defensemen to keep their eyes inside instead of worrying about sliding to help out.

“Coach said we could play with them one-on-one as long as we didn’t pressure out and make bad stick checks and lunge forward,” Cuje said. “As long as we kept it tight on their feet we knew we’d be okay.”

“Seamus played amazing today along with our other middies,” Cuje added. “You have to give a lot of credit to them, they matched up great with their middies today.”

“Seamus and Lachlan have been great all year - they play like men,” Eastwood said. “They have so much heart and desire, and they’re smart and athletic. It gives us another element to our team, and it’s an advantage for us. The two of them have been great all year long.”

Unlike last year when A.L. Johnson rallied in the final minutes to stun Rumson in the sectional final, the Bulldogs were able to hold off a late charge by the Pioneers to take home a sectional championship.

“It feels awesome,” Garavente said. “A lot of people, with that large senior class gone, were really skeptical about what we could accomplish this year. We continued to believe in ourselves and now we’re here, and not a lot of people thought we would be.”

“It just shows true resilience,” Seckler said. “We’re RFH lacrosse and we’re going to come back from anything. Even if we start off rough, we’re always going to be there.”

 

BOX SCORE

NJSIAA Tournament

South Group I Sectional Final

3-Rumson-Fair Haven 12, 1-New Providence 8

Rumson-Fair Haven (17-6) 3 2 4 3 - 12

New Providence (17-4)      1 2 1 4 -  8

GOALS - RFH: Griffin Schultz 3, Robbie Garavante 2, Seamus Walsh 2, Bryan Hess 2, Lucas Seckler, Henry Sillen, Charlie Curran; NP: Jack Harvey 4, Quinn Killeen 2, Tyler Lawton, Steve Anderson.

ASSISTS - RFH: Griffin Schultz 3, Robbie Garavente 3; NP: Jack Harvey 2, Quinn Killeen 2, Johnny Shaphazian, Conor Malone, Jack Barletta.

SAVES - RFH: Kyle Knapp 10; NP: Garrett Pope 7.

SHOTS: New Providence 27-26.