Birch Sets Scoring Record, Defense Pitches Shutout to Send Manasquan to SCT Final
LONG BRANCH – It took Manasquan two quarters and some different offensive sets to crack Southern’s zone defense, but when the Warriors figured out their method of attack the goals came in bunches.
Second-seeded Manasquan scored seven times in the third quarter to break the game open while the defense kept Southern off the scoreboard for an emphatic 12-0 victory in the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament on Thursday night at Long Branch High School.
Manasquan, which is the defending SCT champion, will face Christian Brothers Academy in the championship game at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Monmouth University’s Hesse Field. It will be a rematch of a regular-season game won by CBA, 6-4.
“I think it was just getting settled and seeing them for a half,” said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. “They are a well-coached team and they do a nice job with that zone; they keep it tight and their goalies makes big saves. (Southern head coach) John (Pampalone) always has them ready to go and they have kids that can play. They ran their zone exceptionally well tonight and we just need a half to get acclimated to it.”
Junior attackman Canyon Birch scored six goals and added two assists to set a new Shore Conference single-season goals records while junior midfielder James Pendergist scored twice, junior attackman Ryan Anderson tallied one goal and two assists and junior goalie Mike LaPoint made five saves to pick up the shutout.
Birch scored twice in the first half when Manasquan (15-2) built a 4-0 lead and then sank four goals during the third quarter to give him 98 goals this season. The previous record was 93 goals by Southern attackman Dylan Jinks in 2014. The state record is 129 set by A.L. Johnson’s Matt Poskay in 2001.
“This is something I’ve set out for since I was younger and something I dreamed about entering high school,” Birch said. “These are things I did my research on to find out what the records were and those are what I’ve set out to get every year and then try to go beyond that and set my own pace.”
Birch scored the game’s opening goal off a transition pass from junior long-stick midfielder Mike Page and then set up Anderson for a goal to make it 2-0. James McElduff made it 3-0 late in the quarter off a pass from Anderson. The lead grew to 4-0 when Birch scored unassisted at the 3:55 mark of the second quarter and Manasquan took that advantage into halftime.
LaPoint along with defensemen Jack Fabean, Tommy Shaughnessy and Tyler Callahan plus Page and Evan Hilla, James Pendergist and Sean Anderson in the midfield held Southern to just four shots in the first half. The offense was still trying to find its groove, however, and eliminate unforced errors.
“We had some success with our 2-2-2 on Tuesday and went with that initially, then tried the 14 and it wasn’t working too well,” Cunningham said. “We went with an open set and started to find some success there, and it was some of the guys starting to get dialed in, too. We were able to find a way.”
“The only set we didn’t try (in the first half) turned out to be very successful in the second half,” Birch said. “It was an adjustment the coaches made and we were able to execute it very well.”
Another factor in the third-quarter run was the play of the face-off unit. Sean Anderson went 8-for-13 in the game and was 5-for-7 in the second and third quarters combined with help from Page, Hilla and Reilly Callahan coming off the wings.
“I thought Sean on Tuesday and today played the best he has all season,” Cunningham said. “Nothing came easy but we were winning 50-50 ground balls and Sean was doing a nice job where if he wasn’t winning the clamp he was getting into position where he could and when he was winning them he was getting it out clean and finding his attackman. I think the game was really won in that regard to give us possessions and the opportunity to settle down and get going.”
“Having two great wings really helps a lot,” Anderson said. “Usually my goal is if I don’t win the clamp clean to just make it a 50-50 because I know we’ll pick it up.”
Pendergist opened the scoring in the third quarter and Birch followed 30 seconds later to stretch Manasquan’s lead to 6-0. Fabean showed his offensive ability with a long-pole goal at 7:17 before Birch scored again off a pass from Reilly Callahan to make it 8-0 Warriors. Callahan then scored off a pass from Anderson and Birch scored twice in the final 68 seconds to make it 11-0 entering the fourth quarter. Pendergist scored early in the fourth quarter to make it 12-0.
Now Manasquan will try to win its second straight SCT title, and to do so the Warriors will have to take down to only Shore Conference team to defeat them this season.
“Saturday is going to be a big, big day for us,” Birch said. “Our offense has really studied a lot of film and prepared. This game is going to mean everything to us. Right now, it’s a one-game season.”
Manasquan 12, Southern 0
Southern (12-3) 0 0 0 0 – 0
Manasquan (15-2) 3 1 7 1 – 12
GOALS: Canyon Birch 6, James Pendergist 2, Ryan Anderson, James McElduff, Jack Fabean, Reilly Callahan.
ASSISTS: Canyon Birch 2, Ryan Anderson 2, Mike Page 2, Jack Fabean, Reilly Callahan.
SAVES – S: Luke Maul 10; M: Mike LaPoint 5.
SHOTS: Manasquan, 39-10.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.