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WEST LONG BRANCH -- As Bridgewater-Raritan celebrated at the opposite end of the field, Southern Regional head coach John Pampalone walked over to a small group of reporters for some postgame comments, just as he always does, win or lose.

Before the first question was asked, the anguish on his face said it all.

In its fourth trip to the Group 4 final in program history, Southern went toe-to-toe with a high-powered and highly-ranked Bridgewater-Raritan squad but it was the Panthers who scored the final four goals of the game to emerge with an 8-6 victory and claim the 2022 NJSIAA Group 4 state championship on Wednesday night at Shore Regional High School.

Southern had a two-goal lead with under a minute left in the third quarter but the Panthers quickly rallied to tie the score heading into the final 12 minutes. It was still anybody's game at that point, but Bridgewater sank the go-ahead goal with 5:29 left in regulation and kept Southern off the scoreboard to win its seventh state title and deny Southern what would have been its first championship.

"Obviously this is a very tough loss for us," Pampalone said. "Getting this close; I'm saying this now for the fourth time and it's getting hard, but we continue to close the gap and get closer and closer, and hopefully one year we can knock the door down and finally win this thing. But I couldn't be prouder of the fight and the commitment of these guys this year."

Bridgewater-Raritan started strong on goals by Rutgers-bound senior midfielder Colin Kurdyla and Daine Kostes in the opening three minutes to go ahead, 2-0, but Southern battled back to tie the score 2-2 after the first quarter. Senior attackman Jack Kolbe scored off a setup from senior attackman Ryan Sininsky at 6:27 and senior midfielder Zach Wascho finished a long possession by dodging and scoring with 1:25 left in the opening quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Sininsky beat his man and then Bridgewater goalie Will Kasica to give Southern a 3-2 lead. The Panthers answered when Alex Delierre scored off a setup from Brady Kurdyla at 6:59 and then took a 4-3 lead when Brady Kurdyla scored with 3:19 left.

The momentum Southern began to build midway through the first quarter extended into the third quarter when the Rams went on a three-goal run. Kolbe found some room and bounced a shot in to tie the game 4-4 at 8:39 of the third. Then Sininsky beat the Bridgewater zone to give the Rams a 5-4 lead at 5:07. Just over a minute later, Southern used a crisp transition to score an unsettled goal off the stick of Sininsky to open a 6-4 advantage.

Southern led 6-4 with under 90 seconds left in the third quarter but Bridgewater was able to respond with two quick goals to knot the game 6-6 heading into the fourth. Colin Kurdyla scored with 49 seconds on the clock and then Tom Tremarco used a pass from Brady Kurdyla to score with just 9.8 seconds remaining.

Despite Bridgewater-Raritan controlling the face-off X with Matt Cuzzola and Kostes combining to win 17 of 19 face-offs, Southern was still able to churn out quality possessions thanks to a defense that forced turnovers, senior goalie Tyler Sininsky making some great saves, and Bridgewater committing a handful of unforced errors. Southern had a long possession to start the fourth quarter but couldn't score and lost the ball when Bridgewater forced a turnover. With 5:24 left, Delierre cut topside from X, took a pass from Colin Kurdyla, and scored to give the Panthers a 7-6 lead.

Off the ensuing face-off, Southern was called for an illegal body check and assessed a one-minute penalty. The man-down unit was able to kill off the flag and then with 3:34 left, senior LSM Chris Laureigh came up with a huge ground ball that allowed Pampalone to call timeout. However, on the restart, Southern was unable to clear and Bridgewater grabbed possession right back. That led to Tremarco scoring with 2:10 left to give the Panthers an 8-6 lead.

"We had a couple bad clears in the last five minutes which really hurt us and the minute-and-a-half stretch to close the third quarter; I thought we had a lot of momentum and we let them get two goals to gain a lot of that back," Pampalone said. "We started the fourth quarter with a really long possession and had some good shots but we just couldn't find the back of the net."

"(Bridgewater) is a high-powered team and you know they were going to hit the back of the net eventually. We just couldn't match them in the fourth quarter."

Southern certainly came into the game as the underdog against Bridgewater. The Panthers won the North Group 4 title with a semifinal win over Ridgewood and then a 10-6 win over previously-undefeated Hunterdon Central in the title game. They are ranked No. 8 in the state in the latest NJ.com Top 20. But as senior defenseman Nate Committee said after the Rams won the South Group 4 title with a 7-4 triumph over Lenape, Southern would "fear no one" in the state final. The Rams backed up those words with a gritty performance that left a lot to be proud of, even if the final result left them in tears.

Southern has been a top-10 program in the Shore Conference for over a decade but after a few down years by their standard, this senior class brought them back to championship form all while navigating a canceled sophomore season due to the Covid pandemic. Twin brothers Ryan and Tyler Sininsky and Jake and Zach Wascho, defensemen Nate Committee, Brock Lefkus, and Tyler Smith, LSM Chris Laureigh, face-off specialist Kurt Falk, attackmen Jake Cornelius and Shea Hille, defensive midfielders Noah Keenan, Nolan Anderson, and Kole Levy, plus defensemen Mason Danzinger and Luke Chory and middie Gavin Schulze put in the work to bring three more division titles and two more sectional titles to Ram Country. Then before this year, standout senior attackman Jack Kolbe transferred in from Robbinsville and gave the Rams another excellent 2022 player.

"They have meant everything," Pampalone said. "It's a shame they got their careers cut short by a year. We were on top and didn't fall that far but we were missing title games and just stuck in a malaise. They brought us back to playing in big games, got us back to playing for championships. They are certainly going to be missed."

 

Box Score

Bridgewater-Raritan 8, Southern 6

Southern (16-4) 2 1 3 0 -- 6

Bridgewater (17-3) 2 2 2 2 - 8

GOALS -- S: Ryan Sininsky 3, Jack Kolbe 2, Zach Wascho; BR: Colin Kurdyla 2, Alex Delierre 2, Tom Tremarco 2, Brady Kurdyla, Daine Kostes.

ASSISTS -- S: Ryan Sininsky, Jake Washco; BR: Colin Kurdyla 3, Brady Kurdyla, Matt Maciolek.

SAVES -- S: Tyler Sininsky 10; BR: Will Kasica 6.

 

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