LONG BRANCH -- Down by one at halftime of the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham had a message for his team that hit them hard.

"He said if we don't win this game all of what we worked for all season long and in the preseason would be down the drain," said senior attackman Jarrett Birch. "That really fired us up and got us going."

Birch scored three times himself in the third quarter to put the second-seeded Warriors (14-3) ahead for good as they controlled the second half for a 12-8 win over third-seeded and defending SCT champion Southern on Thursday night at Long Branch High School. Birch finished with a game-high five goals, juniors Pat Felstedt, Devan Carroll and John Moran each scored twice and freshman James Pendergist tallied once to power Manasquan into its first SCT final since reaching the inaugural championship game in 2005.

"This win means a lot," Birch said. "The last time we we were in the Shore Conference final was 2005, and losing to (Southern) 8-4 last year almost gave us more motivation to come out here and really stick it to them for payback."

Senior midfielder James Manzo scored two goals and two assists and senior attackman Nick Simonelli had two goals and one assist for Southern, which suffered its first loss of the season. Junior midfielder Will Johnson also scored twice while senior Jon Manzo and freshman Nick Fontana each scored once. Junior goalie Tristen Farina made 10 saves.

The back-and-forth trend started early as Jon Manzo scored off a pass from junior attackman Kyle Mulrane with 40 seconds left in the first quarter to tie the score at three.

Carroll scored twice in the first two minutes of the second quarter, including a back-to-the-goal snipe off a feed from Canyon Birch to put the Warriors up 5-3. The Rams (12-1) tallied three times in the final five minutes of the half, however, to take a 6-5 lead at the break. Johnson blasted one in off a pass from Simonelli with 4:41 left, Fontana scored off an assist from James Manzo with 2:11 to go to tie the score and James Manzo scored with 10.8 seconds remaining for the go-ahead goal.

Birch's three goals in a span of three minutes in the third quarter got Manasquan back on track with an 8-6 lead heading to the fourth quarter. The lead grew to 9-5 when Birch scored again with 6:41 left in regulation, but Johnson scored just over a minute later to keep Southern within striking distance. But when Pendergist and Moran scored 34 seconds apart it put the Warriors up 11-7 with just three minutes left and all but sealed the win for Manasquan. Moran and Simonelli traded goals in the final minute to provide the final margin.



2-Manasquan 12, 3-Southern 8

Southern (12-1)    3 3 0 2 --  8

Manasquan (13-3) 3 2 3 4 -- 12

GOALS - S: James Manzo 2, Simonelli 2, Johnson 2, Jon Manzo, Fontana; M: J. Birch 5, Felstedt 2, Carroll 2, Moran 2, Pendergist.

ASSISTS - S: James Manzo, Mulrane, Simonelli; M: C. Birch 2, Degnan, Carroll, Tonkovich.

SAVES - S: Farina 10; M: Pollock 3, M. LaPoint 2.

SHOTS: Manasquan, 39-20.


Lacrosse editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.