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Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham has been waiting anxiously for what his team did on Monday afternoon. A sectional title? Certainly. But even more than that was how the Warriors earned another championship.

Manasquan, the Shore’s No. 2 team, No. 14 team in New Jersey and the second seed in the NJSIAA South Group 1 tournament, put together its most complete performance of the season and stormed past top-seeded and 10th-ranked Bernards, 12-6, to win the NJSIAA South Group 1 championship. Manasquan’s offense was balanced and deadly and its defense was phenomenal against a high-scoring Mountaineers offense, giving the Warriors (17-3) their third straight sectional title and fourth in five seasons.

“We found that different gear I’ve been waiting for,” Cunningham said. “When this team puts it all together and plays like that, they’re pretty scary.”

Senior attackman Casey Mulligan had a hat trick to pace the Manasquan offense while senior midfielder Hayden Grecsek, junior midfielder Robert Pendergist, sophomore attackman Matt Porazzo, and junior FOGO Max Pauwels each scored twice. Sophomore Blake Gorski scored once, junior goalie Carter Groezinger made 13 saves and Pauwels won 14 of 19 face-offs against Bernards’ Matt Sardis, who entered the game having won over 83 percent of his face-off attempts.

Defensively, Manasquan’s big three of senior Mike Farrell and juniors Dylan LeBlanc and Ryan Bilello were tremendous. Farrell was matched up with Bernards senior attackman Zach Zukowsky – who entered the game with 53 goals and 122 points – and held him completely off the scoresheet. The defense also shut out 40-goal attackmen Harry Kaufman (49 goals) and David Brothers (40 goals) and held standout midfielder Patrick Caldwell (79 points) to only one goal. LeBlanc locked down Kaufman, seniors Chris Farinacci and Bryce Ridge split runs at LSM covering Caldwell and Bilello delivered tenacious checks early to eliminate Brothers as a threat.

Manasquan will play Mountain Lakes in the Group 1 state final at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at Hopewell Valley Regional High School.

Since losing to Rumson-Fair Haven, 11-4, in the Shore Conference Tournament final and having their streak of three SCT titles snapped, Manasquan has been dominant in state tournament wins over Point Boro, Madison, Glen Ridge and Bernards with an average margin of victory of 11 goals.

“We talked to them about what they want their legacy to be,” Cunningham said. “The Shore streak is over, are you going to let that game beat you twice? They dug deep and found something within them.”

An illegal hit on senior midfielder Mike Farinacci early in the game gave Manasquan a two-minute extra-man opportunity and the Warriors cashed in on a goal by Mulligan. Porazzo then scored another man-up goal for a 2-0 lead. In the second quarter, Porazzo scored a sensational goal when he one-timed a bounce pass hockey-style to put the Warriors up 3-0. Off the ensuing face-off, Pauwels won it clean, sprinted into the box and scored to make it 4-0.

After Bernards got on the board, Mulligan fired a goal into the top corner to extend Manasquan’s lead to 5-1 and Grecsek scored with a bounce shot to give the Warriors a 6-1 halftime lead.

Manasquan started the second half with an EMO and made the Mountaineers pay on a goal by Pendergist. The teams traded goals to set the score at 8-3 heading to the fourth quarter. Gorski scored a backhanded goal to make it 9-3 before Ridge cleared the ball and dished to Pendergist to push the advantage to 10-3. Bernards scored two quick ones to cut its deficit to 10-5 but Groezinger made a few big stops to prevent any further damage. Pauwels and Grecsek added two goals in the final minute to send Manasquan onto the field to collect another piece of championship hardware.

A familiar foe awaits Manasquan in the Group 1 state final. Mountain Lakes has defeated Manasquan in each of the last two Group 1 championship games, including a 7-6 heartbreaker in 2019. The Warriors are 0-3 in state finals but if they bring the same intensity and effort they did on Monday, the record book will need a new page on Thursday morning.

 

 

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