Ross helps St. Joseph capture GMC crown
An already injured Drew Ross was almost sick with the thought missing St. Joseph's first game against Monroe a couple weeks back.
The sophomore attackman made up for it in this second meeting by simply not missing much at all.
Ross erupted for a career-high six goals, including four in the first half as second-seeded St. Joseph (Met.) built an eight-goal lead en route to a 15-3 win over top-seeded Monroe for its fifth consecutive Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship Friday afternoon in Old Bridge.
Senior attackman Ed Lubowicki blasted in four goals and added two assists and junior attackman Patrick Kellish sank three goals to pace a St. Joseph's squad that has navigated through a bumpy season, but seems to be hitting its stride at the perfect time.
The Falcons (11-9) raised their winning streak to five, following a four-game losing streak and a 10-game stretch in which they were 2-8. One of those losses came against Monroe, 10-8, May 1 to decide the regular-season GMC title.
"It was really hard to watch (while out), especially this game against Monroe," Ross said. "I was really upset about that and did not want to give them a chance today."
Ross, who missed only three shots all game, certainly was not alone in that endeavor. The game began with a won faceoff by senior Steve Martino (Matt Olivo snared the ground ball) and things pretty much continued to go St. Joseph's way after that.
Martino was successful on three of four draws in the first quarter as his Falcons dominated possession and forged a 3-0 lead behind goals by Ross, Domenick Morelli and Lubowicki. By the end of the half, Martino was 10 of 12, the St. Joseph's lead ballooned to 9-1 and Monroe (15-3) had attempted only two shots against the stubborn defensive play of Nick Schofield, Ian Stankosh and Michael Allen.
"I love it," Martino said of his club's overwhelming possession time. "I have my wing men, Mike Syslo and Matt Olivo; those guys are unreal picking up ground balls, if I win it backwards or forwards. And I can always trust my attackmen if I'm dumping the ball off to them. I feel confident no matter who I'm giving it to."
But there was no Ross that last time against Monroe, which meant the highly talented Lubowicki was marked even tighter than normally that day. The Notre Dame-bound star faced a shutoff for most of the first half Friday, but this time Ross made Monroe pay.
"He's a great player," Lubowicki said of Ross. "When he gets into the game and focuses on the back of the net, he can do so much. He's a great player."
The presence of the hot-handed Ross proved to be a double-whammy for Monroe, who was forced to play for the fourth straight game without 200-point scorer Mike Toto, out with mononucleosis. Toto, a senior attackman, and junior attackman Matt Siemons each had struck for three goals and two assists in the earlier win over St. Joseph.
Siemons once again netted three goals, but he was forced to work significantly harder without his buddy's help.
"Mike's a tremendous player," Monroe head coach Joe Yannone said. "What he brings just with his maturity and his leadership is tremendous. He's such a big part of our offense.
"I think once we settled down in the second half we played fine offensively," he said. "We just had that lapse in the first and second quarter. It's tough without Mike. But give St. Joe's all the credit. They came out and were intense. They killed used on faceoffs, killed us on ground balls."
Lubowicki had fought through his shutoff to connect twice off dodges in the second quarter, and he also fed Ross for a goal in that explosive period. The Falcons unloaded 11 shots in the second, hitting on six of them.
"Our objective was to win every ground ball battle, put it in the back of the net and win. Plain and simple," Lubowicki said.
"It all comes from the ground balls," he said. "The first time we played Monroe, they won the round ball war and that's why we lost. We picked up ground balls this time and got possession."
Lubowicki fed Kellish 30 seconds into the third quarter for a 10-1 St. Joe's lead, but their team did have mild difficulty generating the same fluid offense the rest of the quarter. Siemons had connected for Monroe off a pass from Andrew Dooley with 2:27 left, but that was the only other goal of the frame. Monroe held a 2-1 advantage on faceoffs and a 7-4 edge on ground balls in the third.
"If we play that way in the first half it might be a different game," Yannone said. "That's experience, I guess. I'm proud of my kids for getting here. to be here is an accomplishment for the program."
Monroe, in only its sixth season of varsity play, was making its first trip to the GMC final. St. Joseph was in search of its eighth championship, and doing so with a far greater sense of confidence than it possessed most of this season. The Falcons fell to Immaculata, 9-7, two days after the Monroe loss, but have since defeated five opponents by a combined score of 70-13.
"I think that Monroe game was a wakeup call," Martino said. "We kind of turned on the burners the past few games, and we really prepared for his game hard. We came out with a vengeance. Really wanted to take it to this team."
That's what happens, one supposes, when a conference crown one is so accustomed to wearing is suddenly knocked to the ground.
"I think more than anything, we wanted revenge," Ross said. "Last time I was really upset watching that game. We strongly believe that this is our conference and no one else can even compete for it."
Monroe had little time to dwell on the loss. The Fifth-seeded Falcons play host to 28th-seeded Oakcrest at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the NJSIAA Group 3 tournament. St. Joseph, the No. 8 seed in Non-Public A, is home to No. 9 Notre Dame in a first-round game Tuesday in Metuchen.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS