WALL TOWNSHIP -- Being content with leading by four at halftime wasn't going to be good enough for Wall to get past Howell in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

"At halftime we came together and said we have to put them away in the third quarter," said Wall senior attackman Mike Steppe. "Lacrosse is a game of runs, and if they went on a run it was going to be anybody's game. We knew we had to be the ones to make the run and put the game away."

Wall senior attackman Mike Steppe. (Photo by Robert Badders).

The seventh-seeded Crimson Knights did exactly that, pumping in six goals during the third quarter to blow the game open on their way to a 13-6 victory over the 10th-seeded Rebels in the opening round of the SCT on Saturday afternoon at the 18th Avenue Athletic Complex. Steppe led the way with six goals, three of which came during the third-quarter barrage, while sophomores Mike McIntyre and Will Forte each scored twice. Casey Foley, Lucas Iarossi and Tim O'Hern each had one goal and one assist, and senior goalie Zach Harrell made 14 saves.

The Crimson Knights advance to Tuesday's quarterfinal round where they will take on second-seeded Manasquan.

"As a whole the team played well," said Wall head coach Chris Knight. "They were rotating, they were communicating, they were winning ground balls. I thought all four quarters we played a solid Wall game. It was my "A" team."

"We came out firing on all cylinders," said junior defenseman Joey Belko, who had a game-high seven ground balls.

The Crimson Knights (12-2) also had motivation beyond reaching the round of eight in the Shore Conference Tournament.

"We had a big reason to play today," Belko said. "We had a kid in our school, a freshman, Luke Bautista, that recently died. That's why we had the "LB" on our helmets. We were playing for him. That fired us up."  

Senior midfielder Nic Rossi had two goals and two assists for Howell, while junior attackman Ryan Damelio also scored twice. Nico Lorenzo and Drew Bukowiec added goals and sophomore Dan Roberto made 13 saves.

Wall led 2-1 after the first quarter, opening the scoring with unassisted goals by O'Hern and Steppe before Bukowiec tallied with 1:15 left in the opening frame. The teams traded extra-man opportunity goals early in the second quarter when Forte took a pass from Foley and scored at 10:07 to put Wall in front, 3-1. Howell answered when Jason Kenny dished to Lorenzo on the crease for a goal at 9:03.

Harrell made five of his 14 saves in the second quarter to help Wall build a 6-2 halftime edge. After Howell closed to within one, he made a few key stops before goals by McIntyre, Steppe and Iarossi 90 seconds apart gave the Crimson Knights some breathing room.

"If they put two or three in before us it's a different ballgame," Knight said. "Zach has had an excellent year and kept us in many games where he saves a shot that can turn a game around. That's what he's done all year. He's been consistent and solid for us."

"Zach's a big part of our defense and he's saved us in a lot of games," Belko said. "He's a big key to our success."

Howell (8-6) cut Wall's lead to 6-3 on a goal by Rossi 1:15 into the third quarter, but Wall would go on the run it was looking for by scoring the next five goals. Steppe scored a pair of goals off dogged rides while McIntyre and Foley scored unassisted. When Forte scored off a feed from Iarossi with 5:30 left in the third quarter it put Wall up 11-3. Rossi then scored unassisted for Howell, but a great play by O'Hern at X to get the ball to Steppe while falling down, followed by a ridiculous backhand shot for a goal by Steppe with 7.3 seconds left made it 12-4 heading to the fourth quarter.

"We made that run and that ended the game," Knight said.

Steppe scored his sixth goal 21 seconds into the fourth quarter for a 13-4 Wall lead. Damelio scored both his goals off passes from Rossi in the fourth quarter, one at 11:27 and the other with 17 seconds remaining.

Wall now has two separate winning streaks of at least five games this season, and the Knights offense has been rolling over its last four games with at least 12 goals in each.

"We've finally put everything together," Steppe said. "We're moving off the ball well, cutting and finishing when we need to. We're just executing, and that's what it's come down to the last few games."

Now the Crimson Knights get a second crack at rival Manasquan. The Warriors are seeded second and undefeated against Shore Conference teams this season. They blasted Lacey, 23-8, in the first round. Manasquan scored a 16-5 victory over Wall when the teams met on April 23.

"Of course any time Wall and Manasquan play in any sport it's huge," Steppe said. "We always look forward to it. Obviously we didn't play our best game against them so we're just happy to have a second chance to get after it."



7-Wall 13, 10-Howell 

Howell (8-6) 1 1 2 2 --  6

Wall (12-2)   2 4 6 1 -- 13

GOALS - H: Rossi 2, Damelio 2, Bukowiec, Lorenzo: W: Steppe 6, McIntyre 2, Forte 2, Foley, O'Hern, Iarossi.

ASSISTS - H: Rossi 2, Kenny; W: Foley, Iarossi, O'Hern.

SAVES - H: Roberto 13; W: Harrell 14.

SHOTS: Wall, 32-19.


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.