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MANASQUAN – The Shore Conference Boys Lacrosse Tournament has been dominated by a handful of teams since its inception less than two decades ago. Two programs have won four SCT titles and one has managed to win four in a row. With its performance in its latest high-stakes game, Manasquan has put itself in position to make more history.

Timely goals by seniors Casey Mulligan, Hayden Grecsek and Mike Farinacci, junior Robert Pendergist and sophomore James Farinacci coupled with clutch saves by junior Carter Groezinger and stingy defense steered the No. 2 Warriors to an 8-6 victory over No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals on Thursday afternoon at Pat Barnaba Field. Manasquan’s second victory in a 10-day span over their rivals put them into the SCT championship game for the fifth straight season.

The three-time defending SCT champion Warriors will try to make it four straight conference titles on Saturday morning when they head to the peninsula to face top-seeded and undefeated Rumson-Fair Haven in the title game. Rumson, which defeated Wall, 10-6, in the other semifinal game, has the most SCT titles (6) in conference history and is the only team to pull off a four-peat, which it did from 2011-2014.

Mulligan scored a game-high three goals and Groezinger finished with seven saves, three of which came during the fourth quarter. He made a big save on CBA star attackman Dan Martin with 4:07 left to preserve what was a 7-5 lead at the time. Grecsek scored twice and Pendergist, Mike Farinacci and James Farinacci had one goal each.

Manasquan senior attackman Casey Mulligan.                              Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com

Manasquan’s standout group of defensemen had another very good game with stalwarts Mike Farrell, Ryan Bilello and Dylan LeBlanc leading the way and seniors Bryce Ridge and Chris Farinacci providing valuable minutes.

“It’s hard to beat a good team twice so we knew they were going to come to play,” Mulligan said. “We came to play, too, and we just left it all out on the field.”

Martin led CBA with two goals and one assist. His extra-man opportunity goal with 5:25 left in the third quarter pulled CBA to within 6-5 after Manasquan had a four-goal lead, but that was as close as the Colts would get. Sophomore attackman Nick Blalock also scored twice and seniors Terrance Lacewell and Michael DeRosa had one goal apiece. Senior goalie Noah D’Andrea had another outstanding game in goal and finished with 11 saves.

Lacewell, who is signed to Monmouth University and has been an invaluable playmaker for CBA this season, suffered an apparent shoulder injury late in the first half and did not return.

It was another fun battle at the face-off X between two of the Shore’s best. CBA senior Jared Lucich finished with a one-win edge (9-for-17) over Manasquan junior Max Pauwels.

Manasquan struck first when Mulligan scored to end a long and deliberate opening possession of the game. Lacewell equaled the score just over a minute later. With the score tied 1-1 and CBA standout defenseman Aidan Quinn in the penalty box for a cross check, Manasquan took the lead for good when sophomore attackman Matt Porazzo set up Pendergist for the go-ahead goal. Grecsek added a goal with 3:42 left in the first quarter and James Farinacci snuck a shot just inside the near post early in the second quarter to put Manasquan ahead, 4-1.

The scoring went back and forth from there but the early cushion Manasquan had built proved to be the difference. Quality shots were hard to come by for both teams and CBA managed just 19 shots for the game and no more than five in any quarter. Manasquan finished with 25 shots.

“We went through the film and saw they were running an open set and pushing my matchup, Dan Martin, out so we changed the hot slides and the two-slides to make sure we’re always there and meeting the middies up top so they don’t get clean shots,” Farrell said.

“We owned our matchups,” Bilello said. “It’s a team defense and we all work as one.”

Manasquan senior defenseman Mike Farrell.                                 Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com

Blalock scored at 6:45 of the second quarter off a nifty setup from senior attackman Ryan Howard, but Manasquan responded with the next two goals. Grecsek moved to his right and fired across his body for a goal that gave the Warriors a 5-2 lead with 3:51 left in the first half. They took that lead into the break and an offsides penalty on CBA allowed Manasquan to begin the third quarter with the ball and 17 seconds of EMO time. That possession to open the second half led to Mulligan’s second goal and a 6-2 Manasquan lead.

“We put in a couple news sets and game-planned for some things,” Mulligan said. “We knew they were probably going to try that zone out, that ‘Colt’ defense. We were just prepared for everything and ready to go out and show it.”

The Colts still had a run in them and they surged to within one goal of tying the game with three straight tallies in a span of 3:37. DeRosa scored to make it 6-3 and Martin got on the board shortly after to make it a 6-4 game. With Farrell, who shadowed Martin for most of the two games vs. CBA this season, in the box for a cross-checking penalty, CBA took advantage when Martin converted a pass from sophomore attackman Ian Macrae and blasted it up and over Groezinger to trim Manasquan’s lead to 6-5.

“You know they’re going to have a run and a guy like Dan Martin is eventually going to find it,” said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. “We talked about that last time; he’s too talented so he’s going to get his hands free and when he does he’s going to find the back of the net, that’s just the reality of it.”

One of the themes from the first game (a 9-8 Manasquan win) was Manasquan’s ability to deliver a response any time CBA went on a run, and the Warriors did it again on Thursday. With CBA hot on their heels, Mike Farinacci scored with 3:44 left in the third quarter to re-establish a two-goal lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The lead nearly returned to three several times in the fourth quarter but D’Andrea made some huge saves, none better than stoning Owen McCusker on the doorstep off a transition pass from Mulligan with 9:30 left in the game. Manasquan would eventually go ahead, 8-5, when Mulligan completed his hat trick with a fadeaway jump shot with three minutes to play.

CBA made it interesting when Blalock scored off an assist from Martin with 1:51 left and Lucich won the ensuing face-off, but Groezinger and Manasquan’s defense preserved the lead to send them back to the title game.

Now the Warriors will go from one elite matchup to another. Rumson has been a juggernaut this season but had its hands full against Wall for nearly three quarters until scoring three goals in the final 2:07 of the third and pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 10-6 win. The Bulldogs have now defeated five state top-20 teams, are ranked No. 5 in New Jersey and will enter Saturday’s game at their home field with a 16-0 record. Their resume is as good as any team in New Jersey.

“We knew at the beginning of the season they would be a tough opponent so we’re looking forward to that game,” Mulligan said. “Just getting ready for the game is going to be a blast.”

“We’re pumped for it,” Bilello said. “There’s a lot of history between us. We’re coming out to win and I know we’re ready for it.”

While Manasquan’s main rival is probably CBA, there is plenty of championship history between the Warriors and Bulldogs. Rumson beat Manasquan, 8-5, in 2016 to win its record sixth SCT title. The following year, Manasquan won an 8-7 thriller to win its first SCT crown. The two teams also squared off in a pair of state sectional championship games with each team claiming a title over the other. Saturday’s game has the makings of another classic.

“We’re looking forward to playing an excellent Rumson team that has found ways to win a lot of great games,” Cunningham said. “They’re battle-tested, they’re well-coached and they have a lot of horses in the stable. We’re going to have to prep in the next 48 hours and come off this game and be ready to play come Saturday.”

Manasquan vs. CBA

 

Box Score

(2) Manasquan 8, (3) Christian Brothers Academy 6

 

 1234F
CBA (13-4)11316
Manasquan (13-2)32218

 

GOALS – CBA: Dan Martin 2, Nick Blalock 2, Terrance Lacewell, Michael DeRosa; M: Casey Mulligan 3, Hayden Grecsek 2, Robert Pendergist, James Farinacci, Mike Farinacci.

ASSISTS – CBA: Dan Martin, Ryan Howard, Ian Macrae; M: Matt Porazzo.

SAVES – CBA: Noah D’Andrea, 11; M: Carter Groezinger, 7.

SHOTS: Manasquan, 25-19.

 

 

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