JACKSON – Lacey has opened the season in dominant fashion, averaging over 15 goals per game and defeating its opponents by an average of over 10 goals during an undefeated start. But even with those gaudy numbers, there was still a feeling of emptiness among the team.

Entering Monday, five of the Lions first six wins had come against teams with losing records. They yearned for a matchup with another quality team and a chance to show the success of the first three weeks was not simply a product of their schedule.

“This was finally a team we could really compete against and show what our offense and defense can do,” said senior defenseman Ryan Collins. “We had six wins but none of them mattered as much as this one. We came out and showed what we’re all about.”

Lacey made the north and west drive up to Don Connor Boulevard on Monday morning and left with a zero still occupying the loss column thanks to an impressive 12-5 Shore Conference nondivisional win over Jackson Memorial. The Jaguars entered with an 8-1 record, but Lacey controlled most of the game in scoring the first nine goals and pitching a shutout until late in the third quarter.

Photo by Robert Badders/Townsquare Media NJ.
Photo by Robert Badders/Townsquare Media NJ.

Senior attackman Dylan Vitale continued his torrid scoring stretch with a game-high seven goals while senior attackman Dominic Waltonowski recorded a goal and five assists. At the defensive end, junior goalie Gustavo Baxes, a first-year starter, had the best game of his career with 14 saves. Kian Gonzalez added a pair of goals, Ryan Giles and Steven Starner each scored once and Chris Augustine dished out two assists.

Playing in the Class B South division of the Shore Conference means fewer opportunities for the top teams in the division. After undefeated Shore Regional and Lacey, the rest of the division is 12-31 and only Point Boro (5-5) has a .500 or better record. The depth, compared to the other three division’s, just isn’t there. Game’s like Monday’s are where Lacey can make its mark.

“We have to win these opportunities to gain momentum,” said Lacey head coach Shane Allen. “We knew Jackson is a very talented team, a Group 4 team in A South, so our guys knew coming into the game what it meant.”

After a first quarter where Baxes and Jackson’s Chad Szatkowski each made five saves to keep the ball out of the back of the net, Lacey erupted for six goals on six shots in a span of 8:07 to take control of the game heading into halftime. Giles got the ball rolling when he faced-dodged half of Jackson’s defense before beating Szatkowski for a 1-0 lead. Giles was also slashed on the play, and on the ensuing man advantage Vitale scored to a 2-0 lead.

Just over two minutes later, Waltonowski passed across the crease to Vitale for a goal and a 3-0 advantage. Waltonowski continued his playmaking on the next Lacey goal, this time dishing from X to Gonzalez to make it 4-0. With 3:45 left in the first half, Vitale came from X, dodged two defenders and scored with a left-handed shot to make it 5-0. At the 2:08 mark, Waltonowski and Vitale connected again to give the Lions a 6-0 lead which they took into the break.

“We just encouraged the guys to stay with it,” Allen said. “We missed four or five opportunities in the first, hit a pipe or two and missed what we felt like was an open shot a couple times with Dylan. I just said to stay with it, those things are going to turn into goals if you stick with it. We were patient.”

“We just started clicking and found the holes in the defense and found some room on the crease,” Vitale said.

It was more of the same in the third quarter. Vitale netted his fifth goal off a pass from Augustine midway through the third and then converted a great pass from Waltonowski through traffic with a high catch and finish on the crease. Vitale’s seventh goal of the game with 3:11 left in the third gave Lacey a commanding 9-0 advantage.

Jackson finally got on the board when junior attackman Sean Laverty scored with 38 seconds left in the third to make it 9-1. That goal would ignite a Jaguars run that saw them close the gap to 9-5 with six minutes left in the game. Sophomore midfielder Drew Walenty picked up a ground ball and scored early in the fourth to make it 9-2 and then scored again off a pass from Nick Perillo to make it 9-3. With 6:53 to play, defenseman Jake Bryson forced a turnover, led a fast break and fed Perillo for a goal that cut Lacey’s lead to 9-4. Laverty then converted a man-up chance with a blast from the top of the box, trimming the deficit to 9-5 with 5:55 left.

Lacey was able to answer, however, when Starner won the ensuing face-off and scored to extend the Lions’ lead to 10-5. Waltonowski scored with 3:02 left to make it 11-5 and Gonzalez added a late goal to provide the final scoring margin.

Aside from the five-goal surge by Jackson, Lacey’s close defense and Baxes had a very good game. Jackson didn’t have many quality chances through the first three quarters, but when the Jaguars did, Baxes was there to make a clutch stop.

“I’m really proud of Gus with how he came out today,” Collins said. “There were shots where we left a guy wide open on the crease and he even saved those. He’s patient with his clears and he works really well with us.”

“He’s been growing, and I told him his best lacrosse is still ahead of him,” Allen said.  “He’s been fortunate enough to have a seasoned group of close defensemen in front of him where he hasn’t been put in a lot of pressure situations, but he really measured up today. There’s no doubt he’s the man for us right now.”

Since the start of the season, Lacey has done its best not to look ahead to its game on Saturday with Shore Regional, ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and 8-0 entering the week. When the season started, it was assumed that game would be for the B South title, and as long as Lacey takes care of business against Point Boro on Wednesday, it will be. The teams played an epic game last year with Shore leading the whole way before a wild Lacey rally forced overtime. The Blue Devils prevailed, 14-13, with a goal in the extra period.

“Everybody does that – looks down the road – but that’s when you get snuck,” Allen said. “We’re just focused on Wednesday and Point Boro. We certainly know who Shore is and we had a great game against them last year. We look forward to an opportunity but we’re focused on Wednesday first.”


Box Score

Lacey 12, Jackson Memorial 5 

Lacey (7-0)063312
Jackson Memorial (8-2)00145 

Dylan Vitale 7, Kian Gonzalez 2, Ryan Giles, Steven Starner, Dominic Waltonowski; JM: Sean Laverty 2, Drew Walenty 2, Nick Perillo.

ASSISTS – L: Dominic Waltonowski 5, Chris Augustine 2; JM: Nick Perillo, Jake Bryson, Matt DeRosa.

SAVES – L: Gustavo Baxes 14; JM: Chad Szatkowski 7.

SHOTS: Lacey, 30-28.


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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