Uncharted Territory: Shore Regional tops Southern to reach first SCT semifinals
WEST LONG BRANCH – The expectations surrounding Shore Regional’s boys lacrosse program had never been higher than they were entering the 2019 season. A talented and senior-laden Blue Devils team had its sights set on breaking into the upper echelon of the Shore Conference and reaching new heights.
On Tuesday at Feeney Field, the Blue Devils took another major step forward in what has become their banner season by defeating perennial stalwart Southern Regional, 13-6, to reach the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time in program history.
Senior attackman Jake Turner scored a career-high eight goals and added two assists and senior midfielder Gil Goldsmith continued his outstanding play with two goals and six assists to lead the Blue Devils’ dynamic offense. Junior goalie Scott Sirianni made 10 saves, including a handful of key saves in the second half, to backstop a defense that limited Southern to just two goals over the final two quarters.
“I think we’re very happy with the way we performed today,” Goldsmith said. “We were a little shaky at times – we let them get on a run – but that just shows our perseverance. We’re not going to let up and we’re not going to let anyone push us around. We’re going to respond.”
“This is a great moment, but it’s also just the beginning,” Turner said. “We’re looking for this program to dominate for years to come and it all starts with this team."
Third-seeded Shore will play second-seeded Christian Brothers Academy in the SCT semifinals at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Long Branch High School.
Shore (13-0) has been dominant this season and entered the SCT quarterfinals averaging a shade under 17 goals per game and allowing just under four goals per contest. For a program yet to reach the SCT’s final four, Southern served as an appropriate gatekeeper. The Rams had reached the SCT semifinals in six of the last seven years, including three straight finals appearances from 2013 to 2015 and winning the 2015 SCT championship. The position Shore was trying to get to is where Southern always expects to be.
One of the main messages Shore head coach Gregg Malfa gave to his team before they took the field was that Southern was not going to make it easy, and that was exactly the case through the game’s first 20 minutes. The Blue Devils had jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on a goal by freshman middie Jamie Mazzacco and two by Turner, but Southern got on the board with 26 seconds left when Jake Hughes scored off a pass from Cade Johnson. The Rams scored again early in the second quarter to cut Shore’s lead to 3-2, but after the Blue Devils answered with two consecutive goals of their own to make it 5-2, Southern came back with goals by Will Devane and Johnson to trim Shore’s lead to 5-4 with 3:50 left in the first half.
What Malfa had warned his team about prior to the game was beginning to materialize. Southern’s experience was indeed a very real factor. Shore also wasn’t helping itself with unforced errors. The Blue Devils gained possession off the ensuing face-off and called a timeout to talk it over with 3:43 left in the half.
“We just had to play cleaner,” Malfa said. “Taking nothing away from Southern, they were capitalizing on our mistakes. We were throwing the ball away, had some missed ground balls and they were taking those and going the other way. I thought we were doing a pretty good job against their settled offense. Really what I told them was we can’t keep giving away leads.”
“We felt like we were forcing stuff and playing way too fast for our liking,” Goldsmith said. “Malfa called timeout and we talked about slowing it down and playing our game. When we got that first goal, we realized we could start pouring it on and get on a run.”
The talk paid off. Immediately.
Goldsmith dodged and scored to give Shore a 6-4 lead with 2:59 on the clock. Then, after another timeout with 90 seconds to play, Turner set up Tom Bocco from X to make it 7-4. Goldsmith scored his second off a pass from Jack McCrae for an 8-4 lead and Justin Murphy scored off an assist from Turner 30 seconds later to put the Blue Devils up 9-4. Shore had turned a tight game into a five-goal halftime advantage in the final three minutes of the half.
The Blue Devils maintained their lead in the third quarter as Turner scored his fifth and six goals to counter Southern goals by Hughes and midfielder Ajani Steverson. In the fourth, Turner capped his career-best game with his seventh and eighth goals.
Unheralded was the play of Sirianni and Shore’s defense, led by defensemen Gunnar Schuelzky, Liam Rempel and Ryan Dolan and long-stick midfielder Jake Shirley. Sirianni made eight of his 10 saves in the second half and held Southern to just two goals. Shore has one of the conference’s top face-off specialists in sophomore Sean O’Brien, but Southern had the better of play from its face-off team as Drew Wasacz won 14 of 22 draws. The Rams had the possessions and chances (16 shots in the second half) but Sirianni shut the door.
“The way the defense buckled down in the second half, I couldn’t be happier,” Malfa said. “(Southern) has some scorers; Cade is a very good scorer and those middies are tough. We had some trouble covering them and they got good shots off, but Scott made some really key saves at key moments and when we needed a goal, we got one.”
The best team in Shore Regional boys lacrosse history heads down the road to Long Branch High School on Thursday where it will try to make history again. Standing in the way is CBA, a storied program in the Shore Conference which has won four SCT titles and reached the final last season. The Blue Devils and the Colts met in the SCT quarterfinals last season with CBA winning, 15-3.
“Just playing a historic program like CBA is obviously a great opportunity to prove ourselves in the Shore Conference,” Goldsmith said. “They put a stomping on us last year so we’re coming out looking for revenge and I think we have a great shot on Thursday.”
3-Shore Regional 13, 6-Southern Regional 6
GOALS – Southern: Cade Johnson 2, Jake Hughes 2, Ajani Steverson, Will Devane; Shore: Jake Turner 8, Gil Goldsmith 2, Tom Bocco, Jamie Mazzacco, Justin Murphy.
ASSISTS – Southern: Cade Johnson, Noah Wasacz, Ryan Sininsky, Brock Leftkus; Shore: Gil Goldsmith 6, Jake Turner 2, Jack McCrae 2, Justin Murphy, Tom Bocco.
SAVES – Southern: Luke Maul, 12; Shore: Scott Sirianni, 10.
SHOTS: Shore, 32-30.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.