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WEST LONG BRANCH — To understand how much winning the Shore Conference Tournament means to Southern and its program-defining senior class, all you needed to do was catch a glimpse of Dylan Jinks during the postgame ceremony.

His smile stretched ear-to-ear and his eyes were as big as the lacrosse balls he’s so adept at firing past opposing goalies when he was handed the championship plaque.


“Come here beautiful,” he said to the trophy, giving it a kiss before raising it high above his head as his teammates hooted and hollered. “I’m never letting you go.”

Southern senior Dylan Jinks hoists the Shore Conference Tournament championship plaque. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

The top-seeded Rams made history on Tuesday evening at Monmouth University, and did so in emphatic fashion with a 16-6 victory over second-seeded and four-time defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven to capture the 2015 Shore Conference Tournament title on their third try. The Rams raced out to a 4-0 lead and never looked back on their way to becoming the first Ocean County team to be crowned SCT champions.

Photo by Ray Richardson.

Senior midfielder Chris Smith scored a game-high three goals while junior attackman Nick Simonelli pumped in three goals with three assists. Sophomore Kyle Mulrane also scored three times and Jinks had two goals and two assists.

“I think my heart skipped a beat there as I watched the clock tick down from six seconds,” Smith said. “I can’t even explain the feeling. There’s no better feeling than beating that team in this game. We beat them the first time (16-14 in April) but today we made history.”

“We knew this was our last shot and we gave a 110-percent effort,” Jinks said. “I’m just thrilled right now, I can’t even describe how happy I am.”

It was the biggest game in the history of Southern’s lacrosse program, and ended up being the biggest win ever. The Rams have won division titles and even a pair of NJSIAA sectional titles, but the SCT lingered as the the missing piece to the puzzle. On the big stage they came to play - every last one of them. From senior goalie Brendan Lefanto out through his rock-solid defense to the swarming midfielders and sniping attackmen, Southern’s players refused to make the drive back to Manahawkin with their heads in their hands. This time, in their third straight SCT final versus the powerful Bulldogs, they left Kessler Field as champions.

“Once in a while as a team you have these special games where things click on all cylinders, and today was one of those games,” said Southern head coach John Pampalone. “We talked since Saturday that to beat Rumson, the four-time defending champions, it was going to take an extraordinary effort and extraordinary individual efforts. Across the board we played about as well as we could. We made a few mistakes, but we didn’t do many things wrong. Hats off to these kids. They’ve been waiting for this moment for a full year and they didn’t let it pass them by.”

"Our mentality was to leave everything on the field,” Lefanto said. “This is something we’ve been waiting for for a long time. We’ve been knocking on the door the last three years and we finally broke it down.”

To beat Rumson is one thing, but to win by 10 goals in a tournament the Bulldogs have owned the last four years is another. The first game was a 16-14 win by Southern when a young Bulldogs team was still figuring out how to play with one another. Since then Rumson had found its game, and was entering off a 6-0 shutout of a red-hot Freehold Township team in the semifinals and riding an eight-game winning streak.

Southern senior midfielder Chris Smith scored a game-high five goals to help Southern win the Shore Conference Tournament title. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

“It is a little surprising,” Smith said. “But we didn’t want to play another other team in the finals. This is the team we wanted to beat and show everybody what we have.”

One thing the Rams preached heading into Tuesday’s championship game was needing a fast start. They knew they couldn’t let Rumson grab early momentum and be forced to play catch-up the rest of the way. The first quarter went about as well as Southern (17-0) could have planned as the Rams opened up a 4-0 lead, including scoring twice in the game’s first 1:21, and led 4-1 heading to the second quarter.

Smith started the scoring with an extra-man opportunity goal at 10:58 before Simonelli set up Mulrane for a goal 19 seconds later. Sophomore Will Johnson made it 3-0 off a nice feed from Jon Manzo and then pushed the lead to 4-0 off another dish from Simonelli at 7:01. Junior attackman Robbie Garavente got Rumson on the board with 3:03 to go in the first, but Southern had established the foothold it desperately needed.

“It was huge coming out and taking their hearts early,” Jinks said. “We were preaching that from right off the bus.”

“If they started getting momentum we knew it would be really hard to stop,” said senior defenseman Mike Adragna. “We knew if we got going early we’d be fine, and we did.”

While Southern’s offense was rolling early Lefanto made a pair of big saves to keep the Bulldogs (12-6) off the board, keeping momentum on the Rams' side. He finished with 11 stops, thwarting Rumson early on some of its best looks.

“I think he’s the most underrated player in the Shore,” Pampalone said of Lefanto. “He’s made every start for the last four years and has put up an unbelievable record. For whatever reason he’s kind of the afterthought, but Brendan Lefanto is a huge reason we’ve won all these championships.”

As well as Southern had played over the first 12 minutes, they knew the comeback capability Rumson possessed. It seemed everyone in attendance was waiting for the Bulldogs to put a couple goals in and close the gap, but it never happened. Instead Southern began to pull away with four more goals in the second quarter to take an 8-2 lead into halftime.

McManus scored on a blast from the top of the box off a pass from Simonelli just 30 seconds into the quarter, and Jinks made it 6-1 when he intercepted an outlet pass from the goalie and tucked it into an open net. Jinks scored again unassisted at 5:24 to make it 7-1, and Simonelli curled his way around the net before scoring with a low shot at 4:19. Garavente cut the lead to 8-2 by scoring with 48.7 seconds left in the half.

There are teams that slow down and eat clock when they have a big lead, especially in a championship game, but that’s just not Southern’s style. The Rams kept their foot on the pedal to push the lead to 10-2 early in the third quarter on goals by Mulrane and Smith. Jinks made a nice cross-field pass to Mulrane for a goal at 10:09, and junior defenseman Evan Henken executed a great clear before dishing to Smith for a quick finish at 8:58.

Lucas Seckler scored the first of his four goals for Rumson - all in the second half - off a feed from Matt Waters at 7:47. Once again, however, Southern would answer to prevent the Bulldogs from getting any momentum. Mulrane scored off a pass from McManus with 43.7 seconds left and Jinks set up Smith off the ensuing draw to give the Rams a 12-3 lead after three quarters.

All the while the Rams defense was playing outstanding. They had clearly adjusted after allowing 14 goals in the first meeting, specifically taking away the rollback by Garavente and the attackmen. The long reach of Adragna and Henken and quick feet of Anthony Triola and Gordie Vonschmidt stifled the Bulldogs all game long.

After allowing 14 goals in the first meeting this season versus Rumson, Southern's defense clamped down to hold the Bulldogs to six goals, including just three through the first three quarters. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

“I gotta give it up to Chris Smith on face-offs stopping any momentum, and we were just crisp defensively,” Adragna said. “Once we got a stop we cleared it quickly.”

The Rams finished off their most epic win yet by scoring four more goals in the final quarter to cement their historic victory. Simonelli made it 13-3 at 9:04 before Seckler took another pass from Waters and scored at 8:26, making it 13-4. Smith scored his fourth goal at 6:44 top push the lead to 14-4 before Seckler scored consecutive EMO goals just over a minute apart to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 14-6.

The Rams would finish just as they started with a pair of goals in the final four minutes. Simonelli scored unassisted with 3:44 to go and Smith put the finishing touches on an unbelievable championship performance by scoring unassisted with 2:26 left.

Aside from winning the title for themselves, they also raised the banner for Ocean County as a whole. Jackson Memorial became the first Ocean County team to reach the final in 2011, and the Jaguars did it again in 2012. Both times they were thwarted by Rumson. Then Southern took its turn, losing to the Bulldogs 14-5 in 2013 and 17-10 last season before finally breaking through this year.

“It’s a great honor and we’ve talked for years that we wanted to be the team that broke down the door,” Pampalone said. “We knew Monmouth County had great lacrosse going back to CBA and Manasquan, and Rumson has taken the lead the last six years. We’ve been trying to play catch-up. We’ve been able to win our division and do some things on our own, but we’ve never been able to break through here. To be the team that finally does it, it’s awesome.”

Tuesday’s victory was also the final piece to the puzzle for an accomplished senior class that has put Southern lacrosse on the map.

“This group of seniors, you can’t say enough good things about them,” Pampalone said. “They have around 80 wins, three division titles, three sectional titles and hopefully one more, and now a Shore Conference title. It’s a truly remarkable group of winners that loves the big stage and never shied away from it.”

The Rams laid out four goals at the beginning of the season and have been able to cross off the first two on the list. Now comes the NJSIAA Tournament, where they are the two-time defending South Jersey Group IV champions. The final mountain to climb would be to take out one of the North Jersey powers, either Westfield or fellow unbeaten Bridgewater-Raritan, in the Group IV final.

“We’re gonna cherish this and remember it for the rest of our lives, but now we have bigger things to go after and we’re ready to take on the next challenge,” Jinks said. “Coming into the season we had four main goals: to win the division, and we checked that off; win Shore Conference and we checked that off. We’ve got two more checks to go.”



Shore Conference Tournament

Championship Game

1-Southern 16, 2-Rumson-Fair Haven 6

Rumson (12-6)   1 1 1 3 —  6

Southern (17-0)  4 4 4 4 — 16

GOALS - RFH: Lucas Seckler 4, Robbie Garavente 2; S: Chris Smith 5, Kyle Mulrane 3, Nick Simonelli 3, Dylan Jinks 2, Will Johnson 2, Shawn McManus.

ASSISTS - RFH: Matt Waters 2, Griffin Schultz, Robbie Garavente; S: Nick Simonelli 3, Dylan Jinks 2, Shawn McManus 2, Evan Henken.

SAVES - RFH: Conor Deverin 7, Kyle Knapp 5: S: Brendan Lefanto 11.

SHOTS: Southern 36-19.