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STAFFORD — The result itself is not a major surprise, but the score is another story. Southern didn’t just defeat Freehold Township on Wednesday, it made a statement to the rest of the Shore Conference.

The Rams, ranked No. 6 in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10, started fast, ended strong and delivered a 16-3 beatdown to the No. 3 Patriots in a Shore Conference nondivisional game in Manahawkin. The Rams opened up a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, led 8-1 at halftime and 12-3 after three quarters. A goal by Cade Johnson with 5:19 left in the game put the Rams (4-2) up by 12 goals and put the game into mercy mode with a running clock.

“We put them in a chokehold and made them tap out,” said senior midfielder Will Johnson.

Sophomore attackman Nick Fontana led all players with five goals and two assists while Johnson scored four goals with two assists. Dylan Smith added a hat trick and senior attackman Kyle Mulrane scored the 100th goal of his career while finishing with two goals and two assists.

Face-off specialist Anthony Firmani was nearly perfect in going 22-for-23 on draws and senior goalie Tristan Farina was almost impenetrable with 21 saves. The mistakes were few and far between for the Rams against a very good Patriots team that was coming off a 14-4 win over No. 5 Howell.

Drew Dunn, Mike Martino and Matt Graybush each scored once for Freehold Township while Aidan Purcell made 15 saves.

“We had been working to play against their zone and we were quick early,” said Southern head coach John Pampalone. “Fontana did a good job feeding from behind and Anthony Firmani was tremendous getting us possession after possession. It was hard for Freehold to get any momentum because we always had the ball. And when they did get opportunities…for whatever reason Tristan is a stone wall when we play Freehold.”

“Personally, every single game I don’t see us losing,” Farina said. “Every game I go out planning on winning and every shot I plan on saving. I know the team follows me with that. I ask them, ‘why can’t we win today?’ We have the same amount of kids, the same age kids. It’s just two high school teams battling it out against each other.”

It took just 50 seconds for Southern to find the back of the net, and from there the Rams never took their foot off the accelerator. Smith’s goal off a pass from Fontana was followed by another goal from Smith, this one off a dish from Mulrane, less than two minutes into the game. Mulrane scored unassisted at 7:08, then again off a pass from Russo at 4:30. Two goals by Fontana and one by Johnson in the final 3:36 of the first quarter had Southern leading 7-0 and left Freehold Township stunned.

Smith completed the hat trick at 8:32 of the second quarter to give the Rams an insurmountable 8-0 lead. Dunn’s goal at 4:39 finally got Freehold Township on the board, but the Rams held an 8-1 halftime edge. Firmani was perfect in the first half going 11-for-11 on face-offs while Farina stopped all nine shots that came his way.

“We came out strong and that’s what we needed,” Mulrane said. “But it’s about how you finish the game, not how you start.”

The Rams learned that lesson in a season-opening loss to Howell where they led 8-5 in the fourth quarter only to fall, 11-9. This time there would be no such letdown.

Freehold Township scored the first goal of the second half when Martino scored off a setup from Josh Nastarowicz, but Johnson came back with an unassisted goal to make it 9-2. A slick one-handed goal off a rebound by Graybush once again cut into Southern’s lead and pulled Freehold Township to within 9-3 with 6:52 left in the third, but that was as close as the Patriots would get.

Firmani won the ensuing draw clean and Fontana scored unassisted at 6:22 to put Southern up 10-3. Mulrane assisted on Johnson’s third goal with 3:20 left and Russo deposited one in the net off a pass from Johnson at 2:23.

Another clean face-off win by Firmani to start the fourth quarter led to him feeding Johnson for a fast-break goal just six seconds in. Two goals by Fontana and another by Cade Johnson provided the final margin of victory.

Southern has steadily risen to the status of lacrosse elite in the Shore Conference, winning a pair of NJSIAA state sectional titles and a Shore Conference Tournament championship since 2013. A program-defining senior class graduated following the 2015 season, leaving many outside the program assuming Southern would start to free fall. But Southern proved its depth by reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and winning its fourth straight Class A South division title last season.

You have to consider the Rams a program that will consistently contend as one of the Shore’s best, and games like Wednesday’s prove that. They have two of the best offensive players in the area in Mulrane and Johnson, a shutdown goalie and a collection of younger players like Fontana who are coming into their own.

“I said it in the beginning of the year that we were talented but very young and inexperienced,” Pampalone said. “The awful weather in the preseason didn’t help this group and we lost a lot of scrimmages. We weren’t playing well early and we went up to Howell and a lost a game we’re not accustomed to losing. The kids took notice of that and it lit a fire in us. Since that moment this group has been a different team.”

“This win gives us a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “If we just beat up on them we should be able to play with any team out there right now.”


No. 6 Southern 16, No. 3 Freehold Township 3

Southern (4-2)         7 1 4 4 — 16

Freehold Twp. (3-3) 0 1 2 0 —   3

GOALS — FT: Drew Dunn, Mike Martino, Matt Graybush; S: Nick Fontana 5, Will Johnson 4, Dylan Smith 3, Kyle Mulrane 2, Anellio Russo, Cade Johnson.

ASSISTS — FT: Josh Nastarowicz; S: Nick Fontana 2, Will Johnson 2, Kyle Mulrane 2, Ryan Comfort, Anthony Firmani, Cade Johnson, Anellio Russo.

SAVES — FT: Aidan Purcell 15; S: Tristan Farina 21.

SHOTS: Southern, 41-35.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.


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