Wall Boys Lacrosse Takes Down Rival Manasquan to Reach First Shore Conference Tournament Final
MANASQUAN -- While soaking in the good vibes after one of the biggest wins in program history, Wall senior Charlie Sasso reflected on how far the Crimson Knights' boys lacrosse team has come over the last four years.
"A lot of us seniors remember being out here freshman year, four years ago, and we lost 19-1 on this field," Sasso said. "That sat in the back of our heads all day today."
That blowout loss was a distant memory by the time the fourth-quarter buzzer sounded on Saturday morning as Wall, seeded third in the Shore Conference Tournament, delivered a resounding 7-3 victory over archrival and No. 2 Manasquan in the SCT semifinals at Pat Barnaba Field. After several consecutive losses to Manasquan, many of them lopsided, the Knights finally vanquished the Warriors to reach the first SCT final in program history.
"I'm almost in tears," said senior midfielder Matt Dollive. "It's been a four-year journey. These guys beat us early in the season but we knew coming into this game we were a whole different team."
"Hunger, that's what it came down to," said Wall head coach Victor Rivera. "After that first game with Manasquan (a 9-6 loss on April 2), I think the boys were hungry to get back here, not just to play them, but to get to the semifinals and have a chance to get to the final for the first time."
Dollive, Wall's Rutgers-bound midfield extraordinaire, led the way with three goals and two assists while junior midfielder Connor Moore also had a hat trick. Sophomore attackman Jack Meyer added one goal and senior goalie Aiden Kessler made five saves to back up a great defensive performance by the Crimson Knights.
Wall will play top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game at 6 p.m. on Monday at Monmouth University's Hesse Field. This will be Wall's first title-game appearance while the Bulldogs, who are the defending champion and have won a record seven SCT titles, will be in the final for the 13th time in the 17-year history of the SCT.
Junior attackman James Farinacci scored twice and senior goalie Carter Groezinger made five saves for Manasquan, which had its streak of reaching five straight SCT finals snapped. Senior midfielder Niland DiLuchio scored once and senior FOGO Max Pauwels was dominant at the face-off X going 13-for-15.
Wall's defense played its best game of the season, and that made the task even more difficult for Manasquan considering it was playing without two of its best offensive players. Junior attackman Matt Porazzo, a Monmouth University recruit, did not play after suffering an injury in the SCT quarterfinals vs. Howell. Then during the first half, standout senior midfielder Robert Pendergist, a returning First Team All-Shore selection who is signed to Jacksonville, exited with an upper-body injury.
"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses but it does greatly affect what we want to do offensively without them," said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. "Matt was a game-time decision and obviously Robert went out early in the game. We had to make some adjustments on the fly that we didn't prep for and that's not a situation you want to be in. Matty is the guy who gets us going on the attack line from X and Robert is the mechanism that gets everything going in the middle of the field, so when those go off the table, offensively, you see the result."
"The offense never found their mojo today but that's also a credit to (Wall's) defense. They definitely earned the victory today."
When Manasquan beat Wall, 9-6, on April 2 it was the overpowering work of Pauwels at the face-off X that fueled a six-goal first quarter and sent the Warriors on their way to a victory. The face-off results were more of the same on Saturday, but this time Wall's defense was able to weather the storm and keep Manasquan from playing make-it-take-it. Manasquan led 1-0 after the first quarter on Farinacci's goal just 14 seconds into the game, but Wall's defense put the clamps on the rest of the way.
Another major factor was the Crimson Knights' defense finding a harmonious balance between playing aggressive and being reckless. The Knights' biggest flaw the past two years has been taking too many personal foul penalties, but this time they stayed largely out of the box, save for a 2-minute penalty to Sasso in the fourth quarter.
"I think that's been a thing that has developed throughout our entire careers," Sasso said. "When we were young we were too aggressive and the first few years of high school we mellowed out too much, I think. Last year we were way too aggressive and this year we've dialed it back and played really good lacrosse."
Junior LSM Dominick Giglio had another great game with six ground balls while Sasso and fellow poles junior Billy Carr, sophomore Michael D'Amico, and junior Jack Belko were up to the task in their own end.
"Coach (Dan) O'Heney always preaches finding that balance between being aggressive and wanting to make a play," Rivera said. "We have a big, strong, and fast team so if you come too hard it's going to get called, and that's happened numerous times. We don't want to beat ourselves on either side of the ball."
In the first meeting, Wall's offense didn't get going until late in the game and the 9-6 final score was a bit deceiving as Manasquan controlled the game basically from start to finish. Saturday didn't produce a huge offensive outburst for the Knights, but what they did showcase was an offense that played with purpose and patience.
"We were much different, by far, offensively, than in the first game," Dollive said. "We were less patient and rushed things in the first game but today we worked through our progressions and matchups."
Manasquan started strong when Pauwels won the opening face-off and the Warriors converted an unsettled possession when freshman Brandon Kunz dished to Farinacci for the goal and a 1-0 lead. Wall didn't have much possession time in the opening 12 minutes and was outshot, 5-2, but managed to get through to the second quarter trailing by only a goal.
Wall got on the board with 4:37 left in the first half when Meyer found a ground ball and tucked it in to tie the score 1-1. Just over 90 seconds later, Dollive worked from X and fed Moore for a goal that gave the Knights a 2-1 advantage that they would hold through halftime.
The third quarter began with a carbon copy of Wall's second goal as Dollive again set up Moore to put Wall up 3-1. At 8:46 of the third quarter, Moore completed his hat trick when he took a pass from junior attackman John McCurry and hit the back of the net for a 4-1 Wall lead. Manasquan closed the gap to 4-2 when Farinacci sank his second goal of the game with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter saw Manasquan presented with two great opportunities to get back into the game. After Dollive scored at 9:45 to give the Crimson Knights a 5-2 lead, one of Wall's few defensive blemishes came with 8:55 left in the game. Sasso was flagged for an illegal body check/hit to the head and assessed a 2-minute, non-releasable penalty. The Warriors were able to get one back when DiLuchio scored off an assist from Nick Carabetta at 8:04.
With Pauwels continually winning face-offs and the Wall cushion standing at just two goals, Manasquan was still very much in the game. With 3:30 on the clock, Wall was flagged for consecutive penalties on two technical violations to give Manasquan a two-man advantage for 30 seconds. Wall was able to kill off both penalties with a key takeaway near the end of the man-up and a minute later Dollive dodged hard to the net and scored to give Wall a 6-3 lead.
That goal iced it and Dollive added one more strike with under a minute left for good measure before Wall celebrated its milestone win.
"I would say this is a big stepping stone for this team," Sasso said. "I can't be more proud of the guys on this team to step up in a game like this."
Wall vs. Manasquan is unquestionably one of the biggest rivalries in the Shore, but in boys lacrosse and football, the Wall vs. Rumson rivalry has become one of the conference's most intense. Sasso, Dollive, Carr, Giglio, and senior midfielder Jake Davis are just a handful of Wall's lacrosse standouts who also starred on the football team where Wall and Rumson clashed in several big games. On the lacrosse field, Rumson is the gold standard in the Shore Conference and last year defeated Wall in both the SCT semifinals and the NJSIAA South Group 2 sectional final.
"We're really excited," Dollive said. "Wall has never been in a Shore final before and us vs. Rumson, everyone knows how that goes."
"People say Squan-Wall is a rivalry and it definitely is because of the touching towns, but there's no rivalry like Rumson-Wall," Sasso said. "They have power and we're going to bring it. We're going to do everything we can to win that game."
Wall vs. Manasquan Boys Lacrosse SCT Semifinals
(3) Wall 7, (2) Manasquan 3
Wall (15-2) 0 2 2 3 -- 7
Manasquan (13-4) 1 0 1 1 -- 3
GOALS -- W: Matt Dollive 3, Connor Moore 3, Jack Meyer; M: James Farinacci 2, Niland DiLuchio.
ASSISTS -- W: Matt Dollive 2, John McCurry 2; M: Brandon Kunz, Nick Carabetta
SAVES -- W: Aiden Kessler 6; M: Carter Groezinger 6
SHOTS -- Wall, 18-14
FACE-OFFS -- W: Michael Hoarle 0-for-3; Billy Carr 2-12; M: Max Pauwels 13-for-15.
EMO -- W: 0-for-1; M: 1-for-2.