Who: No. 1 seed Ridge (12-3) vs. No. 3 seed Somerville (13-1)
When/Where: 7 p.m. Thursday at Ridge High School
How they got here: Ridge defeated No. 8 Bernards 19-7 and No. 4 Rutgers Prep 10-4; Somerville defeated No. 6 Watchung Hills 10-7 and No. 2 Bridgewater-Raritan 10-8.
History: Ridge defeated Somerville 10-2 on opening day this season. The Red Devils are 0-4 all time in the county championship. Somerville is making its appearance in the county final.
Ridge Report: Aside from a six-quarter stretch over two games in which they allowed 18 goals, the Red Devils’ defense has been suffocating. Against the state’s fifth toughest schedule, they’ve allowed a shade under five goals per game, good enough for ninth-best in the state. Their ride is as hard to solve as a rubix cube, and their defensive unit is experienced, battle tested and perhaps tops in the state in Chris Palladino, Brian Mangion and Mitchell Gray. With a save percentage over .700, Saint Joseph’s-bound TJ Jones has taken over in net full time after splitting duties with Owen Malloy for most of the season, and his stellar play has increased Malloy’s production on attack. Malloy has gone for 12 goals in the four games since becoming a full-time attackman. JT Palladino (40 goals, 18 assists) is as gifted a scorer as they come in the state, and Eric Scott (29 goals, 14 assists) works well in tandem with Palladino. Alec Burckley (14 goals, 11 assists) is as good as they get in the face off circle and is key to Ridge’s success.
Somerville Report: This is uncharted territory for the Pioneers, but the way they’ve played of late you certainly wouldn’t realize it. After finally breaking through last year to the tournament semifinals, they took a huge step in getting to this year’s final by dethroning two-time defending champion Bridgewater-Raritan. Somerville plays fearless, like it has something to prove; evident in wins against upper-division opponents Moorestown (whom Ridge lost to), Watchung Hills, Bridgewater-Raritan, Mendham and North Hunterdon. Behind three of the top attackman in the state in Logan Leblond (25 goals, 32 assists), Matt Raposo (29 goals, 27 assists) and Dan Remoli (40 goals, 10 assists), they love to get out to quick starts as was evident in a quarterfinals matchup with Watchung Hills in which they led 7-0 before 15 minutes had ticked off the clock. Casey McAdam is nearly impossible to solve in the circle, and Michael Waterfield and Matt Proodian provide versatility and veteran leadership between the lines. Pat Grega will likely shadow JT Palladino, and his recent successes include holding All-American candidate Jeff George to one goal in the tournament’s semifinals. Chris Contino and Mike Dimino are solid defenders.
Key Matchup: Watching Burckley and McAdam go at it in the faceoff circle will be worth the price of admission. Each wins the draw as clean as anybody you’ll find in the Garden State. And with possession the name of the game, this contest will likely be determined by which of these two can give their team the ball more often than not.