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LONG BRANCH — There have been few scenarios this season where top-ranked Manasquan has needed either of its goalies to come through with huge saves to keep the Warriors in the game. That time came on Thursday, and when Manasquan needed him most senior Tom Pollock was flawless.

Pollock made 15 saves, including a momentum-changing one-on-one save in the third quarter that kept the Warriors in front and sparked the offense to score five straight goals in the third quarter en route to an 11-5 victory over No. 4 Christian Brothers Academy in the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament.

Sophomore attackman Canyon Birch scored five goals with one assist and senior attackman Jarrett Birch scored four times to lead the offense while senior midfielder Pat Felstedt and junior midfielder James Mele each scored once. It was Pollock’s play in goal that set the tone, however, and helped Manasquan hold off a brief rally by the Colts and turn a 4-3 advantage into a 9-3 cushion in the span of 2:56 in the third quarter.

“Tom is obviously an incredible goalie and he really helped us switch the momentum there,” Jarrett Birch said. “Once we got that one goal to get us going they couldn’t stop us, and a lot of that was us feeding off Tom in the cage.”

“It’s always good to come up big, it’s a great feeling,” Pollock said. “They rely on me just like I rely on them.”

Manasquan (16-1) will face No. 2 Rumson-Fair Haven for the Shore Conference Tournament championship at 6 p.m. on Monday at Long Branch High School. It will be a rematch of both last season’s SCT final won by Rumson, 8-5, and the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II final, which Manasquan won by a score of 8-4.

To get back to the final for the second straight year and third time in program history, the Warriors had to get through a familiar CBA (9-6) team that made them work for every inch of advantage.

CBA opened the scoring when Tom Convery scored unassisted at 9:35, but Manasquan used goals by Jarrett Birch, Mele and Canyon Birch to take a 3-1 lead after the first quarter. It looked like the Warriors were going to pull away early, but the Colts used great face-off work by Nick Robertson to control possession and close to within 4-3 at halftime. Felstedt’s goal put Manasquan up 4-1 at the 7:18 mark of the second, but Luke Grover had a ground ball and great clear that led to him feeding Robbie Hermansen for a goal at 5:12. Working with the extra man in the final two minutes, CBA closed the gap to one goal when ace playmaker Nick Casner fed Chris Romano for a goal at 1:27.

Robertson’s perfect 4-for-4 effort on draws coupled with an active CBA defense limited Manasquan to just two shots in the second quarter.

“They knew we were a run-and-gun team and wanted to go with it once we got it, so they forced us to do that and it kind of messed with us in the first half,” Jarrett Birch said. “At halftime we went over the gameplan to slow stuff down and really get our looks. Once we did that we were able to go.”

Before Manasquan’s offense could find its groove it needed Pollock to make a game-changing save. It happened early in the third quarter with a flag down and CBA making a transition run from midfield after a scrum for a ground ball. Casner passed to Hermansen all alone in front but Pollock was able to snatch the shot out of the air to prevent CBA from tying the game.

“That one-on-one save with the keeper is a huge momentum save for us, and the kids on the bench reacted wildly to it,” said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. “And down the stretch he had just some huge saves to keep that cushion for us and allowed us to do what we wanted through the midfield.”

Manasquan was able to kill off the 30-second penalty, and when Canyon Birch scored at 5:09 off a pass from Joe Tonkovich it opened the floodgates. Canyon Birch would score again at 4:27, then again at 3:34 and once more at 3:14. He then set up brother Jarrett for a goal at 2:13 and in the blink of an eye Manasquan went from clinging to a one-goal lead to owning a comfortable six-goal advantage. Five goals in 2:56 broke the game wide open.

CBA pulled closer with two goals by Luke Valentino in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, making it 9-5, but Jarrett Birch scored at 6:16 and again with a tremendous shot at 2:13 to make sure the Warriors would hold on. Pollock was fantastic again in the fourth quarter with five saves, giving him 10 saves in the second half.

Now it’s onto the SCT final and a date with rival Rumson. This is the matchup everyone in the Shore Conference has been waiting for.

“Last year we made it and lost in a close game, so senior year to make it to the finals to face Rumson is going to be great,” Jarrett Birch said. “We have another shot at them and hopefully we can capitalize.”

“It will definitely be nice to play Rumson gain,” Pollock said. “They’re a great team. They beat us in the Shore Conference (final) last year and it would be awesome to come back the year after and get the title.”


Box Score

No. 1 Manasquan 11, No. 4 CBA 5

CBA( 9-6)              1 2 0 2 —  5

Manasquan (16-1) 3 1 5 2 — 11

GOALS — CBA: Luke Valentino 2, Tom Convery, Robbie Hermansen, Chris Romano; M: Canyon Birch 5, Jarrett Birch 4, Pat Felstedt, James Mele.

ASSISTS — CBA: Nick Casner 2, Luke Grover; M: Joe Tonkovich 3, Canyon Birch.

SAVES — CBA: Ryan McGuiness 8; M: Tom Pollock 15.

SHOTS: Manasquan, 29-20


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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