SEA GIRT — A high-scoring offense, a shut-down defense, great goaltending, exceptional face-off work — Manasquan has it all, and it was on display on Saturday in the second round of the state tournament.

Freshman attackman Canyon Birch scored five goals with one assist, junior attackman Jarrett Birch tallied two goals and two assists and junior goalie Tom Pollock made 11 saves as the top-seeded Warriors pulled away from ninth-seeded Somerville for a 15-7 win at the Sea Girt Army Camp to reach the semifinals of the NJSIAA South Group II playoffs.

It's the furthest Manasquan has advanced in the state tournament in program history.

Junior FOGO Matt Thermann won 18 of 23 face-offs, junior midfielder Devan Carroll notched a hat trick and junior midfielder Pat Felstedt and senior midfielder Paul Krueger each scored twice as Manasquan (16-4) out-scored the Pioneers 9-4 in the second half. Felstedt also assisted on a goal and junior John Moran also found the back of the net.

Manasquan will host fifth-seeded Hopewell Valley in the semifinals, which is tentatively scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

"We had to prepare for a good Somerville team, and their record kind of belies how talented they are," said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. "They have some kids that can play and have a good coaching staff. They came in and took it to us, but we were able to pull away in the second half. We've been a second-half team for a lot of the season and today was just another example of that."

Somerville struck first, but goals by Canyon Birch 25 seconds apart followed by Jarrett Birch setting up Felstedt with 40 seconds left in first quarter gave Manasquan a 3-1 lead it would not relinquish. Birch got his third just 18 seconds into the second quarter, and Felstedt and Carroll sank goals to put Manasquan up 6-3 at halftime.

Thermann found his groove on draws in the third quarter and the Warriors turned those possessions into goals to break the game open. Moran and Carroll began the second half with unassisted goals to make it 8-3, and Krueger and Canyon Birch scored to stretch Manasquan's advantage to 10-4 after three. The Warriors then scored five of the next six goals to open a 15-5 lead before pulling their starters.

"I think (the offense) is starting to peak right now, which as a coach is nice to see because it's do-or-die time," Cunningham said. "You lose and the fun's over."

The Warriors' defense, meanwhile, continues to play at a high level. Juniors Kyle LeBlanc and Jack Mallett along with freshman Jack Fabean and junior LSM Chip Sarnasi have been among the Shore's best units all season. There's depth too, with junior Tom Meyer playing plenty of minutes. Tim Maloughney stepped in on Saturday for Sarnasi and played a strong game.

"We had some guys out today and it's that next-man-up mentality," Cunningham said.

Last season the Warriors were a young team that played to its defense, slowing it down with more deliberate, six-on-six sets. This year they've been able to open up the offense, and can do so with the confidence its defense can get them the ball right back.

"Knowing we have the defense we do with a goalie that's been standing on his head all season, it gives us a lot more confidence at the offensive end," Jarrett Birch said. "We might take some risks with shots because we know we can get the ball back when it goes to the other end."

Manasquan is now one win away from reaching the sectional final and a possible rematch with Rumson-Fair Haven. The Bulldogs defeated the Warriors, 8-5, in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game.

"This is the farthest we've ever gone in program history, and it's a big thing for us after losing to Rumson in the Shore Conference final," Jarrett Birch said. "It was a tough loss, but we had to forget about it because we can possibly see them again in the state finals."

"We still have to get through a very talented Hopewell team and they have to take care of their end, but there's certainly the possibility we see them again," Cunningham said. "States is what we're gunning for. We want a sectional title and to get to that group title game and continue the season as long as possible."


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