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TOMS RIVER — Any questions regarding whether Southern is a complete team were answered on Saturday afternoon.

For the first time all season the Rams’ high-powered offense was held in check, but that didn’t stop top-seeded and undefeated Southern from advancing to the Shore Conference Tournament final for the third straight season with an 8-4 come-from-behind victory over fourth-seeded Manasquan at Toms River East.

After falling behind 3-0 in the first 4:32 of the game, the Rams outscored the Warriors 8-1 the rest of the way, with their defense yielding just a third-quarter tally over the final 40 minutes. Senior attackman Dylan Jinks scored the go-ahead goal 50 seconds into the fourth quarter to snap a four-all tie while Mike Adragna and Evan Henken led a clutch defensive effort in front of senior goalie Brendan Lefanto, who made a few spectacular saves among his 14 stops.

Southern will now play second-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven for the SCT title at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Monmouth University. It’s the third straight year the two programs have met in the championship game, and once again Southern will look to make history as the first Ocean County team to win the SCT.

“We’re known for our offense and our great scorers and scoring a lot of goals, and our defense often gets overlooked because of what the scores end up being,” said Southern head coach John Pampalone. “But we know when we need them they are going to step up.”

“We always have each other’s backs,” Jinks said. “If the offense isn’t having a great game, the defense is always on point. And even if our defense does mess up we have Cheeks (Lefanto) in net hanging tough. It’s a great veteran group.”

Manasquan, with nine sophomores in its starting lineup, played about as well as possible given the opponent and stage. The Warriors hung in there with a top 10 team in the state for 36 minutes before the Rams got their offense untracked and pulled away.

“I’m certainly proud, they’re a phenomenal group,” said first-year Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. “What you see is what you get, and that’s a grinding, never-say-die attitude. Today was a perfect example of that.”

“I thought we did a nice job jumping out to the early lead, but they’re the No. 1 seed for a reason,” he continued. “That’s an 8-1 run to end the game and you have to take that into account. They did an excellent job and I thought their keeper made some phenomenal saves to rob us and kind of zap any chance of momentum we had.”

Southern senior goalie Brendan Lefanto made 14 saves. (Photo by Ray Richardson).
Southern senior goalie Brendan Lefanto made 14 saves. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

With an undefeated record, a great senior class and the best scorer in the land, the pressure was obviously on Southern to advance, and that showed early with Manasquan playing fast and loose to jump put to a 3-0 lead.

Senior midfielder Chris Klodowski got it started for the Warriors (13-3) with a goal 39 seconds into the game, and sophomore midfielder Devan Carroll pushed the lead to 2-0 just under two minutes later when he took a pass from sophomore attackman John Moran and beat Lefanto.

Two more minutes went by and Manasquan showed no signs of slowing down. Pat Felstedt extended the lead to 3-0 with an unassisted goal at 7:28, and the Warriors' defense continued to frustrate Southern.

“Their one-on-one defense was pretty solid, and even when they did have a hiccup and got beat a slide was there to back them up,” Jinks said.

Southern’s ability to score in the blink of an eye is what puts it over the top, and that aspect of its game provided a major boost heading into the second quarter. With under 10 seconds left on the clock junior midfielder Jon Manzo crossed midfield to the 35-yard line before threading a pass to sophomore midfielder Will Johnson, who caught the pass on the run and fired it past Manasquan goalie Tom Pollock just as the buzzer sounded to cut the deficit to 3-1.

“It took a little pressure off our shoulders not being down 3-0 after the first, and it gave us something to build on,” Pampalone said.

Jinks pulled the Rams to within one goal when he scored at 7:58, and senior midfielder Chris Smith netted the equalizer with 1:08 to play until halftime. Being tied at the half and having scored just three goals was something Southern had not experienced this season, but that did little to shake their confidence.

“We are a bunch of grinders and we play incredibly hard,” Pampalone said. “There was no panic, we just knew we had to get to work.”

Johnson put the Rams ahead for the first time in the game when he took a feed from Nick Simonelli and beat Pollock at 9:14. The Warriors, however, didn’t fold, and Carroll tied the score at four when he scored unassisted at 3:31. Heading to the fourth quarter it was anybody’s game, but that’s when Southern’s experience came into play.

Jinks scored the eventual game-winning goal 50 seconds into the fourth quarter when he drove right and fired a perfect jump shot low to the far post. Jinks then setup Kyle Mulrane at 7:15 to give the Rams a two-goal lead. Southern had finally awoken.

“It was like what happened last year vs. CBA,” Lefanto said. “We were down for a while, but we never gave in.”

Smith extended the Rams’ advantage to 7-4 with an unassisted goal at 5:55 before Simonelli put the finishing touches on the Rams’ 16th straight win to start the season with a goal at 2:34.

“Hat’s off to John and Southern, they’re an excellent team and they’re well-coached,” Cunningham said. “They kept grinding and didn't panic when we went on a run, and they took it to us down the stretch.”

Next comes the matchup everyone figured would happen with Southern taking on four-time defending SCT champion Rumson in the championship game. The Bulldogs beat the Rams 17-10 last season and 14-5 in 2013, but Southern got a big monkey off its back with a 16-14 win earlier this season, proving to itself and everyone else that it could beat Rumson. Now the Rams have to do it again on the biggest stage to make history.

“We just have to come out explosive and intense and play Southern lacrosse and we’ll have a good chance,” Jinks said.

“It was a great game the first time and we happened to win,” Pampalone said. “They’re still the class of the Shore Conference until somebody knocks them off in a big spot. We’re just looking forward to getting back there and taking another run at this thing.”



1-Southern 8, 4-Manasquan 4

Manasquan (13-3) 3 0 1 0 — 4

Southern (16-0)     1 2 1 3 — 8

GOALS - M: Devan Carroll 2, Chris Klodowski, Pat Felstedt; S: Dylan Jinks 2, Will Johnson 2, Chris Smith 2, Kyle Mulrane, Nick Simonelli.

ASSISTS - M: John Moran; S: Jon Manzo, Nick Simonelli, Dylan Jinks.

SAVES - M: Tom Pollock 11; S: Brendan Lefanto 14.

SHOTS: Southern, 32-28.

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