The Westfield High School boys lacrosse team is no stranger to the Union County Tournament final, making its eighth appearance in the 12th edition of the county championship game Tuesday night at A.L. Johnson’s Nolan Field.
Unfortunately for the second-seeded Blue Devils, they’re no stranger to watching top-seeded Summit hoist the crown at their expense, as they did for the second consecutive season and fifth time overall in a 9-5 defeat.
Westfield (10-5) is 2-5 all-time in the UCT final. It beat the Hilltoppers twice, each time by a single goal, in 2006 and 2007.
Things looked great initially for Westfield as Jack Flaherty gave his team a 1-0 lead, but that’s the only time it held the lead all night.
The Blue Devils were felled by uncharacteristic sloppy play, according to coach Pat Tuohy.
“Penalties killed us big time, and so did unforced errors,” Tuohy said, “and Summit capitalizes on everything. They’re very solid and the credit goes to them.”
Tuohy’s club was flagged for eight penalties, which led to three extra man goals. Meanwhile, Westfield was unable to capitalize in a man-up situation.
After the first quarter ended 3-2 in favor of Summit, the six-time defending champs dominated the second period and opened up a 6-2 advantage at the break.
The Blue Devils didn’t surrender, though. A strong third period pulled them to within 6-4 to being the final frame, but they’d get no closer.
“Our guys showed a lot of character,” Tuohy said. “We’ve been down in games before this year and have rallied. They never give up, and their effort is always 100 percent.
“Sometimes the decision making is where we run into trouble,” Tuohy added. “I still think our best lacrosse is ahead of us. We have to limit the mistakes as we move on to state tournament play. If you give a championship-caliber team extra opportunities, they’re going to take advantage. The fact that we were in it at 6-4 is a credit to our guys, but we can’t dig ourselves a hole against a team of that caliber.”
Flaherty finished with a hat trick and teammates Matt Webb and Nick Arnold added a goal each.
This was Westfield’s second loss of the season to Summit after bowing to the Hilltoppers 4-3 on April 4 at Tatlock Field.
Aside from a 10-3 setback to the state’s consensus top team — Delbarton — which captured its 12th Morris County Tournament title Tuesday night with a 10-7 victory over Chatham, the Blue Devils’ other four losses are by a combined nine goals.
“If you don’t learn from a loss, you’re a loser,” said Tuohy. “When you lose you want to understand the mistakes you made and where you went wrong.
“We’ve got to take that next step. We’ve have too many tough losses and close losses. We have to understand as a team we have to be more consistent and win won of these close game against a big team.”
Westfield, the No. 2 seed in the NJSIAA North Group IV Tournament, will open up the state playoffs on Saturday when it plays host to No. 15 seed North Brunswick.