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WEST LONG BRANCH — Down by two goals in the first five minutes of the most important game of their playing careers, plenty of thoughts were spinning through the minds of Rumson-Fair Haven’s players. None of them involved panic.

A team doesn’t put itself in position to make history without ample amounts of guts and guile. With 18 seniors, this Rumson squad is heavy on leadership, not to mention skill and lacrosse IQ. With greatness waiting to be embraced, Rumson put on a championship effort worthy of a historic moment.

After falling behind by a pair of goals, Rumson responded by scoring six straight to close out the first quarter. The floodgates were open, and they didn’t shut until the final buzzer sounded on the Bulldogs’ emphatic 17-10 victory over Southern Regional in the championship game of the Shore Conference Tournament on Tuesday afternoon at Monmouth University’s Kessler Field. Senior midfielder Chris Hubler led the offensive explosion with four goals and one assist, Chris Sutphen, Dominic Padula and Robbie Garavante each scored three times, and Colin Shea added two goals and two assists to help the Bulldogs become the first program to win four consecutive Shore Conference Tournament titles.

“They came out and scored two straight goals and you could feel the momentum beginning to swing,” said senior defenseman J.T. Jennings. “But we don’t quit. Our attack rallied back and scored six unanswered goals. They had a couple of good runs and there were definitely some points of uncertainty, but we stuck it out and got the victory.”

“We definitely knew they would come out strong, and after last year they had more experience,” Hubler said. “But all of us seniors, we’ve been here four years in a row. We don’t have the nerves they might have had. When they went on that run we were still confident and stayed calm.”

Rumson's group of seniors brought home the Shore Conference Tournament title for the fourth straight season and went 57-1 against the rest of the conference during their careers. (Photo by Doug Bostwick).
Rumson's group of seniors brought home the Shore Conference Tournament title for the fourth straight season and went 57-1 against the rest of the conference during their careers. (Photo by Doug Bostwick).

What Rumson accomplished Tuesday set a standard that may never again be reached in the Shore Conference. This was the Bulldogs’ sixth straight appearance in the SCT final, and in winning their record fourth title in a row they improved to 57-1 versus the Shore since the start of the 2011 season.

Last season Rumson won its third SCT title in a row and came within minutes of taking the program’s first NJSIAA Group I title. When the current group of seniors were in eighth grade, Rumson was already one of the Shore’s elite. Since then they’ve surpassed everyone and become the program the rest of the conference aspires to be. Regardless of what Rumson accomplishes in the state tournament, this group’s legacy is firmly intact.

“There’s no better feeling that winning as a senior,” Jennings said. “You can win as a freshman, sophomore or junior, but when you know it’s your last one and you know you gave it all you had for four years, there’s no better way to go out.”

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Hubler said. “It’s our last year, and we want to finish on top. We’ll remember this for the rest of our lives.”

Andy Eastwood has been a part of Rumson’s lacrosse program since its inception. His children have played on both the men’s and women's teams and he’s seen his current roster evolve from a mob chasing a ball as grade schoolers to a group of skilled leaders competing with the best high schools in New Jersey. When he took over as head coach this season, replacing New Jersey lacrosse legend Reid Jackson, he knew exactly what kind of team he was inheriting.

“They’re a special group,” Eastwood said. “They’ve been playing as a group since third or fourth grade, and they play as a team and they play for each other. There’s a lot of leadership on this team, and I don’t have to give them a lot. I try not to mess it up. I’m really proud and happy for them as a group.”

After reaching the SCT final for the first time in program history last season and subsequently falling to Rumson, 14-5, Southern had its eye on a rematch since the tournament began. Head coach John Pampalone spoke after the semifinals about his team’s goal of playing to its potential and putting forth its best effort, which he felt wasn’t the case last year. Through the game’s first five minutes everything was going according to plan for the Rams.

Junior attackman Dylan Jinks, the Shore Conference’s leading goal scorer and fourth in New Jersey with 73 entering Tuesday, put Southern up early when he found the top corner with a shot while on the run at 9:16. A little over a minute later, sophomore midfielder Shawn McManus drove to the net and bounced one past Bryce Metzger to give the Rams (15-2) an early two-goal advantage. Southern had the momentum it desperately craved, and when the Rams get on a hot streak they tend to score in droves.

This is where Rumson’s poise took over, however, and ultimately secured victory. Sutphen got the Bulldogs (14-3) on the board when he whistled a high shot past Brendan Lefanto, and Garavante netted the equalizer with another high shot shortly after. The run continued with Sutphen’s second of the game for a 3-2 lead. There was still over five minutes left in the opening quarter, but Rumson had taken the lead for good.

Hubler raced in off the ensuing draw and scored for a 4-2 lead, then Shea spun with his back to the goal and scored to make it 5-2. Padula closed out the six-goal run by going high on Lefanto again. Rumson would score six goals on 10 shots in the first quarter to enjoy a four-goal lead after one. Southern had previously allowed six goals in a game just twice all season.

Rumson senior midfielder and Johns Hopkins University signee Chris Hubler scored a team-high four goals to lead the Bulldogs to the SCT title for the fourth straight season. (Photo by Doug Bostwick).
Rumson senior midfielder and Johns Hopkins University signee Chris Hubler scored a team-high four goals to lead the Bulldogs to the SCT title for the fourth straight season. (Photo by Doug Bostwick).

“We knew they were a good team and were going to come out strong,” Hubler said. “Every team goes on runs, and we knew we couldn’t get down on ourselves. We responded and went on a run, too.”

“Once you get the momentum going on this team, things just take flight,” Jennings said.

Chris Smith broke Rumson’s scoring run when he picked up a ground ball at midfield and took it all the way to the net before finishing it off to cut his team’s deficit to 6-3 at 10:40 of the second quarter, but that was as close as Southern would get. Rumson continued to pull away, pushing the lead to 8-3 on goals by Garavante and Padula two-and-a-half minutes apart.

Jinks scored with a big blast on an extra-man opportunity at 4:30, but Hubler tallied off a question mark move at 3:35 and Sutphen sank a goal with 7.8 seconds remaining in the first half for a 10-4 lead. The Bulldogs weren’t going to slow down, but with a six-goal lead they knew the game was as good as over.

Hubler poked in a loose ball just outside the crease 18 seconds into the second half, and Padula drove and tucked a shot inside the far post at 9:56 as the lead grew to 12-4. Jinks got one back at 9:29, but Shea set up Hubler and Lucas Seckler for goals to end the quarter with a 14-5 lead. Southern scored five goals in the fourth quarter, but those were mainly cosmetic. Rumson’s dominance, it’s ability to rise to the occasion in the biggest and most pressure-packed moments, went beyond what the lights on the scoreboard read.

“This team understands what’s at stake,” Eastwood said. “They know what it is to compete, and this team never quits.”

Jennings recalled his time as a middle schooler and a round robin tournament with Mountain Lakes, Morristown and team comprised of South Jersey players. A few of Southern’s current players were on that South Jersey team. Rumson battled Mountain Lakes in a classic Group I final last season and scrimmaged Morristown this year. It reminded him of a promise of sorts he and his teammates made to each other.

“We said to ourselves that we would see all of these kids in high school and we’re going to win,” Jennings said. “We’re going to leave a legacy at RFH that has never been seen before.”

Jennings was also quick to point out how many different people played a role in this historic four-peat. It goes beyond the current players and coaches. From the feeder program to the junior varsity and freshman players that lined the sideline, Tuesday’s victory was most certainly a program win.

“This program has a great foundation,” Eastwood said. “For a small town we have hundreds and hundreds of kids playing lacrosse. We’re here to stay.”


Box Score

1-Rumson-Fair Haven 17, 2-Southern 10

Southern (15-2) 2 2 1 5 - 10

Rumson (14-3)  6 4 4 3 - 17

GOALS - S: Dylan Jinks 4, Chris Smith 2, Brendan Mullen 2, Shawn McManus, Nick Simonelli; RFH: Chris Hubler 4, Chris Sutphen 3, Dominic Padula 3, Robbie Garavante 3, Colin Shea 2, Lucas Seckler, Avery Mellinger.

ASSISTS - S: Chris Smith 2; RFH: Colin Shea 2, Chris Hubler, Dominic Padula.

SAVES - S: Brendan Lefanto 7; RFH: Bryce Metzger 11, Logan Pagano 3.

SHOTS: Southern, 37-30.

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