Warriors’ Way: Manasquan Rolls Past CBA to Repeat as Shore Conference Tournament Champions
WEST LONG BRANCH -- Just a few minutes into the game it was clear Manasquan was operating at a different level than it had all season. The Warriors were relentless from the start and didn't yield until the Shore Conference championship was heading back to Broad Street.
Second-seeded Manasquan jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first quarter and never looked back, defeating top-seeded and previously-undefeated Christian Brothers Academy, 11-3, on Saturday afternoon in the 2018 Shore Conference Tournament championship at Hesse Field on the Great Lawn at Monmouth University.
"This is maybe the best overall effort I've seen out of a Manasquan team in my four years here," said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. "It was a total team win. The big players stepped up in big situations and so did the guys who aren't the most heralded but do the real gritty work. I'm just really proud of the boys."
Junior attackman Ryan Anderson scored four goals, junior attackman Canyon Birch tallied two goals and three assists, including his historic 100th goal this season, and junior goalie Mike LaPoint backstopped a fantastic defensive performance with 13 saves to lead Manasquan (16-2) to its second consecutive SCT title. The win also avenged a 6-4 regular-season loss to CBA just two weeks ago on the very same field.
Freshman attackman Casey Mulligan added two goals and one assist, junior midfielder James Pendergist had one goal and two assists and senior midfielder James Mele and junior long-stick midfielder Mike Page each scored once as the Warriors, ranked No. 9 in the state, brought home the program's second overall SCT championship and took down the No. 5 team in New Jersey.
Mike Carroll, Connor Macrae and Luke Valentino scored goals and Chris Downey made 10 saves in the loss for CBA, which was denied its fifth overall title in the program's first SCT final appearance since 2009.
"We knew from the start we needed to come out and just hammer this team right away," LaPoint said. "Once we started we just couldn't stop until the game was over and that clock was at zero."
"We definitely knew we had to rise up to the challenge," Pendergist said. "Coach always says it's hard to beat a good team twice and that was our mentality coming in."
On April 27, Manasquan and CBA met in a marquee nondivisional game that, coincidentally, was also played at Hesse Field. CBA was the better team that day in earning a 6-4 victory, and for a variety of reasons. The Colts' defense was exemplary with junior defenseman Tommy Gray locking off Birch and holding him to one goal and one assist while Downey was tremendous in goal. Manasquan was a sloppy, as well, with unforced errors and a general level of play that didn't sit well with the group.
Technical adjustments were made, starting with how to get the offense going if CBA once again had Gray shadowing Birch all over the field. The Colts indeed had Gray assigned to Birch, but this time Manasquan was ready. The Warriors attacked the center of the defense were Gray would usually be stationed, and the result was finding cutters inside to help build a 4-0 lead.
"We watched film and their defense is run off him (Gray)," Birch said. "He kind of directs a lot of their defense and we felt he was the heart and soul of their defense on the interior. With him out to the side it opened the interior and that's why our first four goals were from the inside. That kind of made them start trying to do different things and we worked with that and opened up."
Pendergist got things going when a pass from Mulligan found him with shooting space near the top of the box, enabling him to step into a shot and put it past Downey low inside the left post. Goal No. 2 was the result of a great ride as Page cut off CBA's initial outlet option and forced the Colts to regroup. Their second attempt at a clear was intercepted by Birch and he cut to the middle before finding Anderson alone in front for the goal and a quick 2-0 lead at the 8:42 mark.
The lead grew to 3-0 when McElduff fed Mulligan at the crease and the freshman scored with a highlight-reel, behind-the-back shot. Mele made it 4-0 when he cut to the crease and took a pass from Pendergist before whistling a shot over Downey with 2:12 left in the opening quarter. A better start could not have been scripted.
"We talked about it going in, when they lock off Canyon it's kind of throwing the gauntlet down to the rest of the guys out there," Cunningham said. "They need to take that as, maybe not an insult, but certainly a challenge. Fortunately for us, I can still trot out James Pendergist, who when he's on is arguably the best middie in New Jersey. James McElduff is a great middie and a freak athlete, James Mele the same thing, plus Matt Franzoni, Casey Campbell, Mike Farinacci. And then you talk about Ryan Anderson stepping up and having a day, and Casey Mulligan not playing like a freshman whatsoever with that behind-the-back goal to get everybody going."
"Our gameplan didn't change but we definitely moved off-ball more and helped Canyon because we knew he was getting locked off in the corner," Pendergist said. "We had to step up as a team."
Manasquan kept rolling in the second quarter when Page picked up the ground ball on the opening face-off, split a pair of defenders and scored to make it 5-0. CBA got on the board when Carroll took a pass from Robbie Hermansen and whipped a shot high over LaPoint's stick to make it 5-1. Manasquan answered less than a minute later, however, when Birch curled around the cage and hit the back of the net for his 99th goal of the season. Anderson followed with a goal off an assist from Pendergist and with 3:52 left in the first half Mansaquan held a 7-1 lead.
Macrae scored an unassisted goal with 47.8 seconds left as CBA tried to gain some momentum going heading into halftime, but the sequence to end the first half showed how locked-in Manasquan was. With the Warriors trying to kill off a one-minute penalty, Fabean executed a clear before dishing to Anderson for a man-down goal with 1.1 seconds left and an 8-2 Manasquan lead.
Mulligan's second goal off an assist from Birch made it 9-2 and then Birch notched his 100th goal of the season when he sprinted up the field from X before turning and blasting a rocket past Downey with 3:07 left in the third. Even with limited opportunities, Birch still managed five points, showing once again why he's the state's leading scorer.
"When Canyon gets the ball on his stick, look out because he's going to make plays," Cunningham said. "He's locked off and he still has a four, five-point game. But more importantly, he played his role to perfection, which was to be patient, bury that guy and get looks when he could. We didn't do that the first time through but this time we knew what to expect and we were better prepared."
Valentino scored for CBA to make it 10-3 with 1:13 left in the third. Manasquan's 11th and final goal was a thing of beauty as Birch threw a no-look pass from X to Anderson, who lasered a shot inside the right post for his fourth goal of the game.
While Manasquan's offense was doing its thing, the Warriors' defense and LaPoint were at their best. Fabean and Page were menacing both in their own end and through the midfield on clears while LaPoint was rock solid between the pipes, most notably in the second quarter when he made five saves against 10 CBA shots.
"For me, every single shot felt it like it was coming in slow motion," LaPoint said. "I thought our defense - for the last couple weeks actually - has been playing more as a complete unit. We're talking through step-by-step every play. We know who's hot before they even set up the dodge and we know who has the two right away. We're one mind, basically."
"A big part of it is being on the same page," Fabean said. "None of us have egos so if someone needs to slide we're going to recover right away. That helped us limit them to three. Basically, every 6-on-6 was hard for them to score."
"This win came from our defense," Birch said. "Allowing three goals to a top-five team int he state is incredible."
Now Manasquan will turn its attention to the NJSIAA playoffs. The Warriors will likely be the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group I section and have their eyes on a sectional title and more. If they can sustain the way they played on Saturday they'll be playing into June.
"We had a rocky road in the middle there (consecutive losses to Lawrenceville and CBA) but the boys bounced back tremendously," Cunningham said. "We're in the middle of May and we're peaking and we're gelling, and that's the right time to do it."
"This feels awesome and we're going to celebrate it, but we want more," Fabean said. "We're ready to move onto states.
Manasquan 11, Christian Brothers Academy 3
Manasquan (16-2) 4 4 2 1 -- 11
CBA (16-1) 0 2 1 0 -- 3
GOALS -- M: Ryan Anderson 4, Canyon Birch 2, Casey Mulligan 2, James Pendergist, James Mele, Mike Page; CBA: Mike Carroll, Connor Macrae, Luke Valentino.
ASSISTS -- M: Canyon Birch 3, James Pendergist 2, Casey Mulligan, James McElduff, Jack Fabean.
SAVES -- M: Mike LaPoint 13; CBA: Chris Downey 10
SHOTS: Manasquan, 35-24.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.