Just like in the previous game against Rutgers Prep, the Ridge High School boys lacrosse team appeared to be locked into a fierce, back-and-forth battle in the first half against Don Bosco Prep in Saturday evening’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final on Kean University Alumni Stadium.
Despite out shooting the Ironmen 16-8 and controlling ground balls 13-7 through the first 24 minutes, the Red Devils found themselves facing a 3-2 halftime deficit to a team that boasts one of the most explosive offenses in the state.
Conventional wisdom would have told you that Don Bosco Prep’s go-to scorers, which include an attacking trio in Max Allen, Brady Wulster and Jack Ray and midfielder Marc Buermann that had combined for 137 goals entering the contest and boasted a team average of 11.7 scores per game for the season would eventually take advantage of Ridge’s missed opportunities through the first half.
Instead, however, it was the Red Devils that played with the guts and determination down the stretch necessary of a championship caliber club.
Just as it has done all season, Ridge relied on its stingy midfield ride and staunch close defense in front of its All-American goalie while taking opportunistic advantage of what the Ramsey school’s defense offered them and hoisted its first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crown with an 8-7 victory in an absolutely fabulous display of lacrosse by each team.
The seven goals were tied for lowest output of the season for the Ironmen, who were also seeking their first T of C crown.
“Defense all year has been our backbone,” said Ridge coach Ken Marsh. “Those kids just did so many great things and bought into everything we asked them to do. They stayed with it. They were adaptable, and we had some big stops by TJ (Jones) in the goal.”
While Jones made just six saves, at least four of them were near-make goals that he stopped in spectacular fashion.
And it was a bit of redemption for the All-American goalie who said following the semifinals that he needed to step up his game.
“I thought I played a much better game,” he said. “I held it down as best as a I could, and I played a better game than I did last time and it helped us get the victory.
“Bosco is an amazing team,” he added. “They have a lot of firepower. We tried to do our best defensively and locked it down like we have all season.”
Red Devils senior midfielder and NJILCA Player of the Year, Eric Scott, played a game for the ages. He erupted for a game-high four goals while his teammate and the team’s leading scorer, junior attackman and All-American JT Palladino, was shut out from the scoring ledger.
“The matchup was good, and this was my last game,” Scott said. “I just knew I was going to leave everything out there and wasn’t going to quit.
“There are certain games when I have a good game, and there’s certain games when other guys have good games. I was just lucky enough that today was one of my better games.”
Scott gave Ridge the initial lead in the first quarter with a pair of scores for a 2-1 lead after 12 minutes, but the Red Devils offense went stagnant in the second quarter and scores by Wulster and Buermann staked the Non-Public A champions to a one-goal halftime lead.
“(At halftime) the idea was not to panic at all and we didn’t,” Scott said. “We knew we still had a whole half of lacrosse to go, and we went off of that.”
When crunch time arrived, the guys who’ve been there all year, and a few others who’ve played contributing roles, came up huge on the grandest stage.
First and foremost was Towson-bound senior faceoff man Alec Burckley. He won 11 of 17 draws, but six of seven in the fourth quarter when Ridge outscored the Ironmen 4-3 and got back into their possession game.
Burckley got in on the scoring act himself in the final frame, cleanly winning a draw and sprinting right to the net for a goal five seconds after Scott put in his fourth for a 7-4 lead.
Before Don Bosco Prep scored the final three tallies of the game to make things very interesting in the waning seconds, Alex Gaydos sank an unassisted goal at the 2:59 mark that proved to be the difference-maker.
Burckley and Gaydos each finished with one goal and one assist.
Ridge’s victory marked the third consecutive year that a Somerset County school won the T of C following back-to-back crowns by Bridgewater-Raritan in 2011 and 2012.