TOMS RIVER – Southern’s offense has talent, but it has yet to gel on a consistent basis. Head coach John Pampalone is confident that time will come, but in the meantime, he is quite comfortable leaning on a defense that has served as the foundation of the Rams’ success.

Standout junior defenseman Noah Wasacz and senior goalie Luke Maul led the charge for a Rams team that kept Toms River North off the scoresheet for nearly three quarters on Wednesday, giving senior midfielder Ajani Steverson and the offense time to find their footing and author a 6-3 Shore Conference Class A South victory at Gernard Field.

Steverson led all players with three goals and one assist while junior attackman Cade Johnson scored twice and junior midfielder Jake Hughes added one goal and one assist. At the defensive end of the field, Maul made six saves but was not tested often thanks to the unit of long poles Wasacz, Ian Maul, J.T. Hille and Nate Committee along with the work of short stick middies Will Devane and Steverson.

Toms River North (4-4, 3-2) opened the scoring early in the first quarter on a goal by Trevor Foss, but by the next time the Mariners scored with 5:57 to go in the game, Southern had forged a 5-1 lead. The Rams (5-2, 5-0) were on time with their slides, persistent with stick checks and quick to ground balls. And when Toms River North did get off one of its 16 total shots, Maul was there to make the stop.

“Our defense is very good, it’s the backbone of our team,” Pampalone said. “We really like the defenders we have both short and long sticks, and Luke’s had another really good year. They’ve played great all year led by Noah Wasacz, who right now is having an unbelievable season.”

As much as Southern’s defense stood out, so did the play of the Steverson. He got the Rams’ offense going early in the second quarter with a pair of strikes to give them the lead for good and was a ground ball magnet in the middle of the field. In the third quarter with Southern leading, 3-1, Steverson made a great one-handed catch on a clearing pass from Maul, sprinted into the offensive zone and fed Johnson for a goal that gave Southern a three-goal lead. Then, with the third quarter clock fast approaching zeros, Steverson fought through a double-team, switched to his left hand and bounced a shot into the goal that found a sliver of room on the short side just before the buzzer.

“He has really stepped up as a senior leader this year,” Pampalone said. “He developed nicely last year and came on really strong at the end of the year, and he has had a great start to the season. He’s been in the program for four years and knows what it means to be a senior here. He’s a big part of what we do right now.”

The Class A South division runs through Manahawkin, and Southern knows it is going to get every team’s best effort. Since 2013, the Rams have not lost a division game, a streak that is now at 47 straight wins. Toms River North was coming off a 5-4 upset win over Howell and has a deep rivalry with Southern in all sport. Wednesday’s game was also Southern’s first in a week because of the high school’s senior trip.

“We’ve been the hunted for a long time and we still are,” Pampalone said. “Our first goal is always to win A South. I’ve been doing this too long to not be happy with a victory, a divisional victory on the road, especially. Toms River North is a good team, they just beat Howell and played Jackson (Memorial) really tough the other day. They’re scrappy and tough and defending their home field, they played their hearts out. We’ll take the win and improve on what we need to improve on.”

Both Southern and Jackson Memorial are undefeated within the division, and although both teams have to take care of business in their penultimate A South contests, all signs point to the Jaguars and Rams slugging it out for the division title under the lights on Friday, April 26. The last team to beat Southern in A South was Jackson Memorial by a score of 9-5 during the 2012 season.


Box Score

No. 10 Southern 6, Toms River North 3 

Southern (5-2, 5-0)03216
Toms River North (4-4, 3-2)10023

Ajani Steverson 3, Cade Johnson 2, Jake Hughes; TRN: Trevor Foss, Cody Kromer, Hayden Baranker.

ASSISTS – S: Ajani Steverson, Aaron Hutchinson, Ryan Sininsky; TRN: Brett Singer.

SAVES – S: Luke Maul, 6; TRN: Dan Casadonte, 12.

SHOTS: Southern, 38-16.


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.


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