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WEST LONG BRANCH – If Friday’s game between Shore Conference powers Christian Brothers Academy and Manasquan was indeed a preview of the Shore Conference Tournament final, we’re all in for a treat in two weeks.

In a matchup of the top two teams in the Shore, No. 2 CBA used a career-best performance in goal by senior Chris Downey, a great defense effort led by junior Tommy Gray and a three-goal surge early in the second quarter to take down No. 1 Manasquan, 6-4, in a Shore Conference nondivisional game at Hesse Field on the campus of Monmouth University.

Downey was fantastic with 11 saves, many of which came in one-on-one scenarios or tight to the crease, while Gray was tasked with locking off the state’s leading scorer, Manasquan junior attackman Canyon Birch, and did a marvelous job in limiting Birch to one goal and one assist. Junior attackman Connor Macrae scored twice and senior midfielder Luke Valentino sank the go-ahead goal with 1:44 left in the third quarter to improve the Colts’ record to a perfect 10-0.

“They rose to the occasion and they’ve been doing that all year,” CBA head coach Dave Santos said of his team. “We were led by the defense and it starts with Downey.”

Downey was great last weekend in a 10-3 win over Freehold Township and took his game to another level against the high-scoring Warriors. He had six saves in the first half and made four clutch stops in the fourth quarter to keep CBA in front. None were of the cheap variety, either.

“That’s as good a performance as any high school goalie I’ve seen,” Santos said. “In the biggest game of his career to date, he stepped up big time.”

“He was so good, I felt guilty,” said senior attackman Mike Carroll. “We try to keep the ball off the defense as much as possible but when we mess up we have Chris Downey to fall back on. He had at least three one-on-one saves. It was fantastic.”

The focus of any gameplan against Manasquan centers around how to deal with Birch, who entered Friday’s game with over 60 goals and 80 points in 10 games and is arguably the most dangerous offensive player in New Jersey. CBA turned to Gray and tasked him with locking off Birch, and he did what no one else has been able to do this season. Gray followed him around the field and when he did get the ball CBA was quick to double-team him. Birch’s lone goal came off a turnover and a fast break after he intercepted a pass at midfield.

“We decided that Tommy’s so talented and we liked the matchup with him and Canyon, and if we can get Canyon out of the offensive picture on most of their possessions our chances are better,” Santos said. “On a lot of their offensive possessions he didn’t touch the ball and that might have been the difference in the game. To hold Canyon to one goal is quite an accomplishment and it was Tommy’s duty to shut him out and he did.”

“He’s a great player, he’s competitive and throughout the game he really wanted to win and you could tell,” Gray said. “I just got lucky and the rest of the defense played well. Chris Downey stood on his head today. I just give credit to the rest of the team.”

While Gray wouldn’t speak to his own good deeds, Carroll had no problem expressing how much Gray factored in the win.

“This was a very, very tough assignment,” Carroll said. “He was the hardest-working guy in the offseason that I’ve ever seen in my entire life playing lacrosse. He would text me, ‘Do you want to meet up and do one-on-ones?’ If it was snowing he go to MadDog because they have an indoor facility. He was so adamant it was almost annoying, but I love the passion he has. He played amazing today.”

Junior midfielder James Pendergist led Manasquan with three goals while junior goalie Mike LaPoint also had an outstanding game with 11 saves of his own. The Warriors also had their full team for the first time this season as junior long-stick midfielder Michael Page, a Syracuse recruit, and sophomore midfielder Matt Franzoni, were finally eligible after transferring from the Hun School and St. John Vianney, respectively. It didn’t add up to a victory, however, and gave Manasquan its second straight loss after falling to Lawrenceville, 15-10, on Wednesday.

“I thought Michael played great for us and it’s a shame to waste a game like that from your goalie, but at the same time Downey played great for them and made a bunch of key saves,” said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. “It comes down to the difference-makers, which are the 50-50 ground balls and intuition plays, if you will, and I thought they did a much better job of executing today. I thought we were pretty awful in terms of unforced turnovers. We threw the ball away at least a dozen times, which is pretty uncharacteristic for us. But to their credit, they were putting pressure on us and doing a lot of things, schematically. They executed their gameplan and it kind of forced us out of ours.”

Manasquan grabbed a 1-0 lead just 70 seconds into the game when Pendergist cut through the box, took a pass from Ryan Anderson at X and flipped it past Downey. Macrae tied the score at one by dodging around a defender and beating the slide before firing a shot past LaPoint at the 6:53 mark. Birch gave Manasquan a 2-1 lead with a great individual effort. He leaped with his stick extended as high as it could go to intercept a clearing pass at midfield, then took off toward the cage. He cut to the middle, switched to his left hand and blasted a laser past Downey with 1:46 left in the first quarter.

CBA would erase the deficit quickly in the third thanks to three straight face-off wins by senior Nick Robertson. He won the opening draw and quickly moved it to Robbie Hermansen, who immediately dished it to Macrae on the left side of the cage. He dodged a pair of Manasquan defenders and scored with a high shot to knot the score, 2-2. On the following possession, freshman midfielder Kyle Aldridge drove to his right and fed Hermansen, whose turnaround shot found the back of the net for a 3-2 lead. The lead grew to 4-2 when Kevin Junquet ripped a perfect shot into the top-right corner two minutes later.

Pendergist trimmed Manasquan’s deficit to 4-3 when he took a pass from Birch and scored with a ridiculous behind-the-back shot at the 8:05 mark, and the score remained 4-3 through halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Pendergist tied the score at four when he took a pass from Anderson at X, hesitated briefly to pick his spot and whistled a shot past Downey from the left side of the cage.

CBA regained the lead for good when Valentino took a pass from Macrae, cut to his right and scored with a 15-yard shot inside the left post. Carroll added an insurance goal at 6:25 of the fourth quarter while the Colts’ defense and Downey kept Manasquan off the board.

“We’ve been confident from the beginning but with each of these big wins we’re gaining more,” Santos said. “Some of our younger guys like Aldridge are gaining experience under their belt and that’s all going to help us down the road.”

Manasquan, which suffered consecutive defeats for the first time since losing to Moorestown and Summit in back-to-back games in 2016, will try to regroup on Saturday when it faces Point Boro. The Warriors also have a game with Freehold Township on Monday.

“We’ll learn from this,” Cunningham said. “It’s a little disheartening for us coming back from the Lawrenceville loss and then having a loss in this game, but there’s no rest for us and no time to sit here and sulk. Hopefully we can put ourselves in position to see these guys again in the tournament.”

Nothing is guaranteed, but CBA and Manasquan have been the top two teams in the Shore Conference all season and it would be a major surprise if they don’t find themselves meeting again on the very same field in two weeks for the SCT championship.

“This game means a lot but it doesn’t matter until the Shore Conference (Tournament),” Downey said. “We’ll probably see them again and we’ll have to play as good if not better if we want to beat them again.”

“Hopefully we’ll see them again,” Carroll said. “But we’ll have to have another gameplan because they will. They’re going to watch the film and be better prepared so it’s going to be a more difficult game the second time.”


Box Score

No. 2 Christian Brothers 6, No. 1 Manasquan 4

Manasquan (9-2) 2 1 1 0 – 4

CBA (10-0)             1 3 1 1 – 6

GOALS – M: James Pendergist 3, Canyon Birch; CBA: Connor Macrae 2, Robbie Hermansen, Kevin Junquet, Luke Valentino, Mike Carroll.

ASSISTS – M: Ryan Anderson 2, Canyon Birch; CBA: Kyle Aldridge.

SAVES – M: Mike LaPoint 11; CBA: Chris Downey 11

SHOTS: 25-25.


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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