Boys Lacrosse: Manasquan avenges loss to Wall to reach Shore Conference Tournament championship game
LONG BRANCH -- The situation Manasquan found itself in entering the fourth quarter of the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals had a familiar tone. The last time the Warriors met their archrival on the lacrosse field - nearly a month ago to the day - they carried a lead into the final 12 minutes only to witness Wall rally for a one-goal victory en route to a division championship.
Manasquan was unable to close the door that day. There was no such issue this time.
Sophomore attackman Brandon Kunz delivered three goals and one assist, junior goalie Nick Bounassi made seven saves, and a defense led by poles Kyle Capodanno, Parker Harms, and Connor Kelly enveloped a high-octane Wall offense as the Warriors scored a thorough 8-4 victory over the Crimson Knights during Thursday's semifinal round of the SCT at Long Branch High School.
Senior attackman Matt Porazzo tallied two goals and one assist while senior midfielder Blake Gorski, junior midfielder Brody Muly, and sophomore attackman Ryan Aldi each scored once. Senior midfielder James Farinacci distributed two assists and sophomore midfielder Matt Schneider had an assist to go along with another strong defensive game. It all added up to Manasquan's most complete game of the season and the program's seventh trip to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game.
Manasquan will play No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven for the SCT title at 6 p.m. on Monday at Monmouth University's Hesse Field.
"Without a doubt, this was our most complete game of the season," said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. "When you factor in the stage and the opponent you have to say it's our best effort of the season."
"There's been flashes of it. The first game of the year against Shawnee we had a great all-around game but that was the last time we really saw that," Porazzo said. "Today, to come out here and put all the pieces together on offense, defense, clearing, riding, face-off X, it's exciting for what's to come from this squad."
A team with a 14-3 record set to play in a conference championship game has certainly enjoyed a very good season, but there has also been plenty of roller-coaster moments for this group. Consistency is what they have been working toward with a full understanding that good enough won't be enough when the playoffs roll around. Thursday's performance was a vintage Manasquan showing led by a ferocious defense and gritty play in the midfield.
"Coming off that loss to (Wall) in the regular season, I think it helped us in a way," Kunz said. "We got a lot of stuff wrong that day and we worked on it, got better, and our offense changed. We showed that today."
"It was an amazing game and I feel like we played a full 48 minutes," said Capodanno, a junior defenseman who had multiple caused turnovers. "Now that we're getting comfortable I feel like it's just the beginning of the season for us. Even though it's the playoffs, I feel like we're just getting started."
Manasquan's depth also played a major role in Tuesday's victory. Sophomore defenseman Chris Carhart had a strong game, Schneider continued to contribute at both ends of the field, junior midfielder Will Burns had impact runs at short-stick defensive midfielder, and junior midfielder Joe Carabetta made the most of his time coming off the wing and on defense.
"We had guys you would consider more role players really step up," Cunningham said. 'Matt was that transitional middie playing off the wing, playing defense. Will Burns being able to help us man-down, locking off, doing anything we ask of him. Joe Carabetta running of the wing and playing excellent defense. Chris Carhart stepping up. All those guys helped tremendously. We definitely went deeper on the bench tonight."
In the second semifinal game of the evening following Rumson's 15-4 triumph over No. 4 Christian Brothers Academy, it was Wal that struck first when senior midfielder Connor Moore converted a setup from senior attackman John McCurry 3:46 into the game. Each team traded defensive stops before Kunz knotted the score 1-1 with 1:25 left in the first quarter. After another defensive stop by the Warriors, Gorski gave Manasquan the lead when he stepped into a shot and ripped it home with 28 seconds on the clock.
McCurry found room and scored early in the second quarter to tie the game, but Manasquan answered less than a minute later when Farinacci sprinted across the midfield stripe in transition and dished to Porazzo, who then found Kunz for the go-ahead goal and a 3-2 lead. The score remained. With 2:11 on the clock in the first half, Muly dodged to his right and blasted a shot up high to extend Manasquan's lead to 4-2 at halftime.
Wall used pinpoint passing to cut its deficit to one early in the third quarter when junior attackman Jack Meyer set up junior midfielder Will Madden for a goal. Any potential Crimson Knights rally was halted by Manasquan's defense until the Warriors' offense was able to extend the advantage with two more goals. Porazzo fired a missile past Wall goalie Lucas Seelinger off a pass from Kunz at 7:36 for a 5-3 lead. With 5:02 on the clock in the third quarter, Manasquan made the extra pass when Gorski dished to Kunz, who then faked a pass before scoring his third of the game and giving the Warriors a 6-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The similarities to the teams' first matchup were not lost on Manasquan's players.
"We remembered that feeling, begin right there 6-4 last time and we ended up losing," Porazzo said. "I had that in the back of my head and I wasn't going to let that happen, and I knew the rest of the guys weren't going to let that happen again."
The next goal was going to be crucial and at the 9:08 mark it went to Manasquan when Aldi found the loose ball off a rebound and swept it into the cage for a 7-3 lead. Just over a minute later, Porazzo bounced in a shot for his second goal of the game. Wall's offense was capable of a swift comeback, but that felt unlikely the way Manasquan's defense was playing. Indeed, the five-goal cushion was plenty to send the Warriors back to the SCT title game for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
"This is what we've been asking from them, that full 48, the passion and the energy," Cunningham said. "This team this year has been a little up and down but tonight we kept that pressure for all 48 minutes."
The next 48 minutes will decide the 2023 Shore Conference champion. Rumson has won a conference-high eight SCT titles, including the last two. Manasquan has three titles to its credit. The two teams have squared off in three SCT finals with Rumson holding a 2-1 edge. They've also played numerous regular season and NJSIAA Tournament games over the past six seasons. To takedown the top-ranked Bulldogs it will take the combination of effort, intensity, and execution Manasquan was able to deliver on Tuesday.
"It's going to take that and more, honestly," Porazzo said. "They're a very talented team and having a good year. But I think a lot of people are sleeping on us, doubting us. There were probably a lot of people who didn't think we were going to win this game and we handed it to them. We're going to come ready and prepared to play our best."