Manasquan Wins an Instant Classic Over Wall to Reach South Group 2 Boys Lacrosse Final
MANASQUAN -- When Manasquan senior Robert Pendergist went down with a shoulder injury during a Shore Conference Tournament semifinal defeat to archrival Wall, he feared that was the final time he would ever suit up as a high school lacrosse player.
On Wednesday afternoon, Pendergist was back in uniform for a must-win rematch against Wall, and when his team needed him most, the dynamic two-way midfielder did what great players do.
With under 90 seconds left in a tie game, Pendergist made a savvy defensive play to regain possession and then delivered the go-ahead goal with 1:10 on the clock as the Warriors came away with a tremendous 7-6 victory over the Crimson Knights in the semifinals of the NJSIAA South Group 2 state sectional playoffs.
With Wall and Manasquan deadlocked 6-6 with a trip to the South Group 2 sectional final on the line, Manasquan had the ball and a chance to take the lead late in the game. This came after junior attackman Matt Porazzo had tied the score with 4:14 left in the fourth quarter. The Warriors worked the ball around and got a great look when James Farinacci passed to a wide-open Blake Gorski. Wall goalie Aiden Kessler made the save, but while the ball was still loose in the crease Pendergsit was able to sweep it back to X where Farinacci scooped up the ground ball to extend the possession.
"I was told by coach Cunningham to stick on the crease and don't get hit, my shoulder's not 100 percent and we all know it," Pendergist said. "He is a great goalie, he really is, but he didn't cover the ball as fast as he wanted to and I got my stick under it and made a play."
With a second-chance possession and time winding down, Pendergist took a pass from Brody Muly, split two Wall defensemen, and scored with a shot low to the stick side to give Manasquan the lead.
"What did I see? A whole lot of nothing," Pendergist said. "I shot for the orange. I saw it and let it fly and I'm so thankful it went in."
Manasquan senior Max Pauwels dominated the face-off X for most of the game, but when Wall needed a possession more than anything it was freshman FOGO Michael Hoarle who came away with the ensuring face-off win. He was then pushed from behind as he ran into the offensive zone, giving Wall a 30-second extra-man opportunity with 53 seconds on the clock.
"I was about ready to melt into the turf," said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. "I'm just thinking to myself let's get the face-off win or at least get it forward. Mike Hoarle has been tremendous all year and for a freshman to come in cold off the bench and win that, he's a great player. Really not looking forward to facing him for the next three years."
Wall had two shots on goal but Manasquan senior goalie Carter Groezinger stopped them both. The third shot was a desperation attempt out of a scrum some five yards out from the crease, and when the shot went wide it was Groezinger who raced to back it up and gain possession for the Warriors. With 1.7 seconds left, Pendergist fired the ball high into the sky to run off the remaining time as the Warriors' celebrated an epic win.
"That last shot was about five yards outside of the cage and I got the backup on it, saw the clock had one second on it, knew we had the ball, and it was like, 'We did it'," Groezinger said.
"We knew who was getting the ball," Groezinger said about the final defensive possession and 30-second man-down stop. "They have two guys they've been going to all game and pretty much all season, really. If 7 (Matt Dollive) is on the crease he's going to pop out and look for the ball and that's exactly what happened on the first shot they had on the man-up. We just had to see what was coming and try to be a step ahead. We've been pretty good on man-down all season and we just had to keep playing like we always do."
"Carter was excellent today and Aiden on the other side was every bit as good, it was a great goalie battle," Cunningham said. "You hope your senior goalie can find ways to win games for you and he can. He did it down the stretch last year, too. He's kind of built for these moments."
Pendergist, a returning First Team All-Shore midfielder who is signed to play collegiately at Jacksonville University, is one of New Jersey's best midfielders. His presence was sorely missed during Mansaquan's 7-3 loss to Wall in the SCT semifinals. He was in uniform for warmups but did not play at all in the first half. He begged Cunningham to put him in the game, and with just under 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, he got his first run of the game.
From there, Pendergist played offense, defensive midfield, and even grabbed a pole to post up as a defenseman on a few man-down situations. He took only one shot in the game, but it was the one that sent Manasquan to its sixth straight sectional final. The Warriors will square off against top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven on Friday at 4 p.m. at RFH's Borden Stadium.
"I thought I was going to be out the rest of the year and it was emotional," Pendergist said. "But Mr. Hyland, our athletic trainer, helped me out and got me back. I wasn't going to play today, I really wasn't, but I begged them. 'Please, this could possibly be it for me."
Manasquan wasn't going to pull the ripcord on Pendergist unless it absolutely needed to. When Wall rallied with three straight goals to tie the game heading into halftime, that marked the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency moment.
"(Halftime) was mostly me just putting my hands together and saying I needed you guys to trust me on this, I'll be good," Pendergist said.
"We talked about it prior to that game that he could go if was a do-or-die situation," Cunningham said. "If it's going to (potentially) be the last game of the season where he's probable, then you have to run him. They took our 3-0 lead and made it 3-3 in the blink of an eye and all of the sudden we're like, 'Ok, we have to make some decisions here."
"You don't want to say he's everything to this team but he's a whole hell of a lot," Cunninghan said. "He's as tough as they come. You think back to his brother (James) in that 2019 run playing through tremendous pain and injuries and Robert is cut from the same cloth. You can tell when he hits the field he's a difference-maker for us in a lot of regards."
While not as dramatic, Porazzo's return from injury was also a huge boost for Manasquan. The Monmouth University commit was hurt during an SCT quarterfinal win over Howell and missed the SCT semifinal game vs. Wall plus the Warriors' first two state playoff games. His presence provided great balance on the attack line, not to mention he scored the game-tying goal with under five minutes to play.
"I don't want to undersell Matt Porazzo's availability for us today because he certainly brings an IQ, a calmness, escapability; all those attributes," Cunningham said. "Matty back and Robert back was just massive for us in every facet offensively."
Farinacci led Manasquan with three goals and one assist while senior midfielder Niland DiLuchio scored twice and Pendergist and Porazzo had one goal each. Groezinger made nine saves, including five in the first quarter, while Pauwels won 13 of 17 face-offs. Senior defensemen Ryan Biello was excellent again to lead a Manasquan defense that limited a powerful Wall offense to just six goals. Seniors Jack and Ryan Burns along with standout sophomore Kyle Capodanno and outstanding freshman LSM Parker Harms rose to the challenge in the biggest game of the season so far.
Wall was led by senior midfielder Matt Dollive (2 goals), junior attackman John McCurry (2 goals, 1 assist), and Kessler (10 saves) in goal. Shea Brennan and Jack Meyer each scored once for the Crimson Knights, who set a program single-season record with 17 wins.
Not only was Wednesday's game a high-stakes state tournament matchup, it was also the rubber match this season between the longtime rival schools. Manasquan won the Class B South regular-season game, 9-6, and Wall won 7-3 in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. Whereas the first meeting featured Manasquan building a 6-0 lead after the first quarter and cruising to the win, Wednesday's game was more like the second meeting in the SCT.
Manasquan opened the scoring at 2:59 of the first quarter when senior defensive midfielder Dan Hyland ran out a clear and set up Farinacci for a goal and a 1-0 Manasquan lead. Farinacci then made it 2-0 when he picked up a ground ball and flung it past Kessler at 1:41. Wall had a great chance in the final seconds of the quarter but Gorski raced over to block the shot and keep Manaquan ahead by two, Groezinger was sharp early with five saves in the opening quarter, including two excellent stops on the crease.
"I didn't want to let them get on any runs, get anything going early," Groezinger said.
The lead grew to 3-0 when DiLuchio converted a pass from sophomore midfielder Brody Muly with 4:36 left in the first half. Manasquan had a three-goal cushion but in lacrosse that isn't much, especially against an offense as talented as Wall's. Brennan got Wall on the board at 3:14 of the second quarter off an assist from McCurry and just over a minute later Dollive faked a shot and dodged to beat Groezinger and make it 2-0. Manasquan won the ensuing face-off but an aggressive ride by Wall led to a Manasquan turnover and allowed the Crimson Knights to call a timeout with 1:46 on the clock. With 1:05 left in the half, McCurry made a great move to get to the crease where he scored to tie the game 3-3.
An offsides penalty on Wall at 9:50 of the third quarter gave Manasquan a 30-second EMO and the Warriors cashed in when DiLuchio took a pass from Farinacci and blasted it top shelf to give his team a 4-3 lead. It was DiLuchio's second goal of the game and continued what has been the most productive offensive stretch of his career.
"It might not show on the stat line but Niland has been tremendous for us in every game this year," Cunningham said. "Every big game he has played quality minutes for us on both sides of the ball. He's one of those guys who slip through the cracks in terms of recognition but if we don't have him this year I don't even know if we're playing in this game. He's been as good as anybody for this team all year long."
Farinacci then extended the lead to 5-3 when he spun off a defender and scored with 7:48 left in the third quarter. Wall had another three-goal run left in them and it began with Meyer juking a defender and scoring with 1:23 left in the third quarter to put the score at 5-4 in favor of Manasquan heading to the fourth. Kessler kept it that way, as well, with a phenomenal save on Squan freshman Brandon Kunz with two seconds left in the quarter.
It took all of 26 seconds for McCurry to tie the score 5-5 in the fourth quarter and it remained tied until a slashing penalty on Manasquan gave Wall a one-minute EMO with 6:14 left. On the man-advantage, Dollive had room from about 15 yards out and whipped a shot into the back of the net to give Wall its first lead of the game with 5:25 on the clock.
Just over a minute later, Porazzo came through in the clutch when he curled topside from X and scored the game-tying goal with 4:14 left to set up the dramatic finish.
After vanquishing one rival the Warriors will now face another with a state sectional championship up for grabs. Manasquan and Rumson have taken turns being the Shore Conference's No. 1 team over the past several seasons and on Friday will square off with another trophy hanging in the balance. Rumson won this year's SCT and is ranked No. 7 in New Jersey.
"They're a great team, but so are we," Pendergist said. "I can't wait to get out there. It's going to be electric."
2-Manasquan 7, 3-Wall 6
Wall (17-3) 0 3 1 2 -- 6
Manasquan (15-4) 2 1 2 2 -- 7
GOALS -- W: Matt Dollive 2, John McCurry 2, Shea Brennan, Jack Meyer; M: James Farinacci 3, Niland DiLuchio 2, Matt Porazzo, Robert Pendergist.
ASSISTS -- W: John McCurry, Connor Moore; M: James Farinacci, Dan Hyland, Brody Muly.
SAVES -- W: Aiden Kessler, 10; M: Carter Groezinger, 9.
SHOTS -- 25-25