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MANASQUAN -- When Manasquan and Holmdel met for the first time this season in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, the Hornets, even in defeat, were the story. They stayed with the Warriors the entire way before eventually falling by a slim three-goal margin.

The teams met again on Friday afternoon with much more on the line, and this time, Manasquan knew exactly what it was getting into.

"Last game was kind of like a warm-up for this one," said Manasquan senior attackman Matt Porazzo. "The first time we played these guys we kind of slept on them a little bit and they gave it to us, but we still got the job done. They sit in that 3-3 zone and it's very good. We knew coming into this one they were going to come out tough and it was going to be a battle."

Porazzo answered the call with a game-high eight points on five goals and three assists, reaching 200 career points in the process, while junior FOGO Ty Thermann did yeoman's work at the X and Nick Bounassi was stellar in goal to lead the Warriors to a 10-4 victory over the Hornets in the semifinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 sectional tournament.

Robert Badders
Manasquan senior attackman Matt Porazzo surpassed 200 career points with five goals and three assists in a 10-4 victory over Holmdel in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 sectional semifinals. (Robert Badders).

Manasquan stayed patient against Holmdel's zone and standout senior goalie Andrew Arredondo, scored twice in transition early in the game, and held down a dangerous Hornets offense to advance to its seventh straight sectional final. The Warriors will host archrival Wall in the championship game at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6.

Sophomore attackman Brandon Kunz had a superb game with two goals and three assists while senior midfielder James Farinacci scored three goals and Bounassi made 11 saves. Thermann and Manasquan won just 7 of 18 face-offs but they prevented Holmdel sophomore Jack Powers from winning draws clean and turned most face-offs into a 50/50 scrum. It all added up to Manasquan's 17th win of the season and a chance at another championship.

Holmdel won the first two face-offs of the game, but in both instances, Manasquan was able to get a defensive stop and push ahead for transition goals. Farinacci gave Manasquan a 1-0 lead off an assist from Porazzo on a fast break at 7:36 and then scored again to make it 2-0 off a setup from Kunz at 2:29. Kunz scored again with 49 seconds left off a pass from Porazzo for a 3-0 lead before Holmdel got on the board via a Brian Volpe goal with 14 seconds on the clock.

"We knew we wanted to try and hit on transition as much as we could just because of the zone and the pace of play, and we know their face-off kid is very talented," said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. "They have the right pieces to make you pay and we knew they were dangerous offensively, so to get those transition goals early and get a lead and let guys get settled in the offensive end was big for us."

Farinacci completed his hat trick early in the second quarter with an assist from junior midfielder Brody Muly for a 4-1 lead. With 4:09 left in the first half, Kunz made a great pass inside to Porazzo, who buried it for his 200th career point and a 5-1 Manasquan advantage. Porazzo scored again off a setup from sophomore defenseman Parker Harms in transition to push the lead to 6-1 but Holmdel was again able to find a goal in the final minute when freshman attackman Finn Buchan scored with 30 seconds left.

Robert Badders
Sophomore attackman Brandon Kunz delivered two goals and three assists to help Manasquan defeat Holmdel, 10-4, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 semifinals. (Robert Badders).

The pace remained methodical in the second quarter but Manasquan was able to find and exploit holes in the zone to take a 6-2 lead into the break.

"Playing against a zone you have to be deliberate, and that starts with trying to get early offense and if that's not there then just making the right decisions," Porazzo said. "You have to move the ball around and it might take two or three times to get it around and then set up your play."

Just like the first game, Holmdel did not go down without a fight. Both goalies came up with impressive saves during the first six minutes of the second half before Holmdel closed the gap to 6-3 when Buchan scored off an assist from junior midfielder Will Gilfillan at the 5:37 mark. Three goals were scored in the final 96 seconds of the third quarter, first by Porazzo after a point-blank save by Bounassi enabled the Warriors to quickly turn the ball the other way. Holmdel answered when senior attackman Kyle Kapcsos connected on a slick backhand goal from 10 yards out to make it 7-4 with 58 seconds left. Manasquan responded immediately, however, when Kunz scored his second with 20 seconds on the clock in the third.

With a four-goal lead and 12 minutes separating Manasquan from its seventh straight sectional final, the Warriors had the luxury of sitting on the ball and letting the clock bleed. They did precisely that with a possession of nearly four minutes to start the fourth quarter. It ended with Porazzo sinking his fourth goal of the game with 7:51 to play for a 9-4 Manasquan lead. With 3:23 remaining, the Warriors iced it when Porazzo cut to the crease and Kunz hit him with a perfect pass for a 10-4 advantage.

"The first quarter is kind of slow against a zone, you have to figure out where the holes and seams are," Porazzo said. "Kind of like in basketball, draw one and kick it. That's how we played today and towards the end of the game we found a lot of success with it."

"We were patient and we were able to find a few in transition early, which was nice and give us a little breathing room out there," Cunningham said. "We had a lot of really good looks and their goalie made some very good saves. I think seeing a zone last game against Seneca and being prepared for that, I thought we were moving and getting quality opportunities."

Robert Badders
Junior goalie Nick Bounassi squares up to stop Holmdel's Brian Volpe for one of his 11 saves in a 10-4 victory in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals. (Robert Badders).

Defensively, Manasquan was able to hold a dynamic Holmdel offense to just four goals thanks to cohesive team defense and another outstanding game from Bounassi between the pipes. The unsung hero, however, was Thermann, who did everything Cunningham asked of him against an opposing FOGO who entered winning 74 percent at the X.

"He was awesome today," Cunningham said. "We went back and watched the film from the first game and saw in the draws early he was doing a pretty good job and I feel like I probably went away from him a lot quicker than I should have. He's had the hot hand - fantastic vs. Ocean, dominant vs. Seneca - so we said let's see how he does. By the third or fourth draw where he was tying (Powers) up and making everything 50/50 and just really selling out on everything we said let's stay with him."

"Not giving them any fast breaks and just pushing back every time made a huge difference," Thermann said. "He was winning the clamps in the beginning and I just stayed on him and started countering and we were able to win some possessions."

Now, it's time for Round 3 between Manasquan and Wall. On April 19, Wall scored a 7-6 victory en route to winning the Class B South division title. Manasquan earned payback with an 8-4 victory in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. Manasquan will be looking for its fifth sectional title, all since 2016. Wall will be looking for its first. The stakes have never been higher on the lacrosse field between the rival schools.

"We know it's going to be an absolute war," Porazzo said. "We know what they got, they know what we have and it's going to be a hell of a game."



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