TOMS RIVER – Middletown South’s roster may be young and inexperienced, but so far this group of Eagles has proven to be fast learners.

The best season in the history of Middletown South’s boys lacrosse program continued on Monday as the Eagles, ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, defeated Toms River East, 10-6, for their ninth straight win that ran their season record to 12-2. Junior Matt Tardy scored five goals and senior Dan Rossi added a hat trick while sophomore Shane Murphy made 10 saves to lead the way.

“I don’t want to say we’re surprised but we graduated 18 seniors and they were all starters,” said Middletown South head coach Rob Grella. “But we’re here and we’re battling. You can see at times how young we are and other times we play at a different level.”

Over the last three weeks, the Eagles have maintained that level in what has been a breakthrough season. They have already set the school single-season record for wins and last week came through with a signature moment by knocking off No. 3 Freehold Township, 9-8. Now they’re surging toward the Shore Conference Tournament as one of the conference’s hottest teams.

“We’re just playing hard,” Tardy said. “Coach tells us to bring it and do the little things right and that’s what we’re doing.”

One key for the Eagles has been a balanced offense. Tardy and Rossi had the bulk of the goals Monday while Matt Fallon and Matt Ferrigno each scored once, but throughout the season they’ve shown they can lean on a different player every game. Tardy, Rossi and Connor Ard each have over 20 goals while Fallon, Carter Lenhard and Jason Allen each have double-digit goals on the season.

Unassisted goals by Rossi and Tardy 21 seconds apart gave Middletown South a 2-0 lead just after the midway point in the first quarter. Salvatore Esposito got Toms River East (7-3) on the board when he scored to record his 100th career point, but Tardy scored again with 1:20 left in the first quarter to send the Eagles off and running.

Toms River East closed the gap to 3-2 when Matt Gannon took a pass from Esposito and ripped one past Murphy for an extra-man opportunity goal early in the second quarter, but Middletown South would go on to close the half with five straight goals to break the game open. Rossi began the run when he dodged a defender to his right and scored with a jump shot across his body to make it 4-2. The lead grew to 5-2 just over a minute later when Tardy cut to the crease from X and whipped a shot to the far top corner.

Tardy’s fourth goal of the game came when he sprinted past a defender out of the right alley, switched to his left hand and beat Toms River East goalie Tyber Budrow with a high shot to put the Eagles up, 6-2. Another goal by Tardy – his fifth of the game – made it 7-2 with 1:36 left in the first half. He again beat a defender to his right, this time dodging from the top of the box, before snapping a shot across his body. Fallon made it a six-goal lead at the half when he split a pair of Toms River East defenders and hit a spinning jump shot with seven seconds left in the first half.

Toms River East was able to trim its deficit to 8-3 when Ryan Buckler took a pass from Matt Gannon and scored the first of his three goals at the 7:59 mark of the third quarter. Middletown South would get that goal back when Ferrigno scored at 3:20 to give the Eagles a 9-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Rossi made it 10-3 early in the fourth quarter when he dodged from X and turned to fire low shot past Budrow. Buckler scored his second of the game off an assist from defenseman Anthony Marinelli at 5:20 to make it 10-4. The Raiders also scored twice in the final minute on goals by Gannon and Buckler, but Middletown South had built enough of a cushion by that point to avoid any kind of dramatic rally.

The Shore Conference Tournament will be seeded on Wednesday night and will begin with preliminary-round games on Thursday. The top two seeds will be CBA and Manasquan, but after that, it’s anybody’s guess. The Eagles should be in a line for a good seed and are certainly capable of making a run to the final four.

“It’s anyone’s game so we hope we have another opportunity to play the teams we lost to early on, Ocean being one and possibly CBA, making them beat us rather than them just rolling over us,” Grella said. “It’s exciting. Last year was the first time we were in the Shore Conference Tournament so in year two to get in again and maybe being a (high) seed it’s going to be interesting to see how the boys respond.”

“We’re playing with a chip on our shoulders,” Tardy said. “We’re playing tough and we want to win. We want to prove people wrong.”


Box Score

No. 10 Middletown South 10, Toms River East 6

Middletown South (12-2) 3 5 1 1 – 10

Toms River East (10-3)      1 1 1 3 – 6

GOALS – MS: Matt Tardy 5, Dan Rossi 3, Matt Fallon, Matt Ferrigno; TRE: Ryan Buckler 3, Matt Gannon 2, Salvatore Esposito.

ASSISTS – TRE: Salvatore Esposito, Matt Gannon, Anthony Marinelli, Kohler Wagner.

SAVES – MS: Shane Murphy 10; TRE: Tyber Budrow 5.

SHOTS: Middletown South, 39-24.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


More From Shore Sports Network