Glen Ridge topples Mtn. Lakes in Group 1
Glen Ridge had revealed sure evidence of growth two weeks ago by avenging an earlier loss to Seton Hall Prep for the Essex County Tournament title.
Signs of increased maturity and stability were again visible on Saturday, and this time they loomed as big and unmistakable as a billboard on the side of the highway.
Showing offensive resourcefulness that was spotty at times in April and flaunting uncharitable defensive play, third-seeded Glen Ridge, No. 11 in The MSG Varsity Power Rankings, rolled to a 10-4 win over second-seeded and sixth-ranked Mountain Lakes in the NJSIAA Group 1 semifinals in Mountain Lakes.
Junior attackman Nick Spitaletta and senior middie Jameson Smith banged in four goals apiece and senior John Winchell and junior goalie Shane Doss anchored that stingy defense to avenge a 10-8 loss to the Lakers last month and accord the Ridgers (16-5) the chance to defend their Group 1 title against top-seeded and No. 3 Summit Wednesday at Livingston High.
Summit, which claimed the Group 2 championship last year, advanced to its fourth consecutive state title game by defeating undefeated Rumson-Fair Haven, 13-7, on Saturday.
"We've improved a lot since the beginning of the season," Spitaletta said. He scored twice in the first half to help the Ridgers move in front, 4-1, and stuck another in the third period when the lead was expanded to 7-3.
"We're a big brotherhood now," he said. "We all got our haircuts to Mohawks now (Friday night) and we were all fired up for this game. We weren't nearly this fired up last time."
Spitaletta, Smith and Winchell all recalled being bested by Mountain Lakes in several categories back on April 14, and yet were good enough to be tied at 8-8 deep into the fourth quarter. They also presumed an even hardier approach this game by Mountain Lakes in response to its 9-8 loss to Glen Ridge last year in the Group 1 championship game.
With that in mind, the Ridgers knew an early lead was critical on this warm day and at the home field of the state's most successful public school over the last 25 years.
"It was really big," Glen Ridge head coach Carl Houser said. "We knew with this being a rematch from last year, kind of capturing that momentum right away was important; not letting them, with their home crowd and all that tradition, get their fans too involved. It really made a big difference for us."
Smith gave Glen Ridge the lead when he dodged from just beyond the midfield line following a timeout and sank a running bouncer with 6:09 to play in the first quarter. Colin Goldstein triggered the next goal 4:03 later when he came up with a tough ground ball in the left alley and fed Spitaletta on the crease for a 2-0 lead.
The early cushion was certainly significant for that moment, but the manner in which Glen Ridge attained the lead was probably its most accurate indicator of sustained success. Glen Ridge had picked up eight ground balls to Mountain Lakes' four in the quarter and would go on to win the overall battle, 33-26. That didn't happen in their regular season game and it doesn't occur much at all for Mountain Lakes' opponents.
"The first time we played them they pretty much outworked us," Winchell said. "After that game we took it to heart to work on ground balls and keep the intensity up. We've just seen it throughout the county tournament and the whole state tournament so far. When we play with energy, no one can stop us."
And, consequently, little got started against Winchell and his defensive crew of Eric Prezioso, Michael Lloyd, John Morrow, Marcus Cunningham, Jackson Kinley, Stephen Ducey, Brandon Haynes and, of course, Doss, who finished with 13 saves.
The junior did make two difficult stops in the second quarter and two more in the third, but the majority of his saves seemed to be more off shots that Glen Ridge enforced than what Mountain Lakes selected.
"Once we had the lead, we were able to force them into situations where you feel you have to shoot to get back into it, and then you force them into shots they don't really want to take," Houser said.
"We know they like to get the ball inside, so that was really our emphasis today: keep the inside shots away. Take away the crease feeds and force them to dodge. Beat the dodge and force them to shoot outside."
Mountain Lakes ((15-4) actually outshot Glen Ridge, 32-26, but could not formulate the kind of high-percentage attempts the Ridgers generated--mainly off crisp cuts and feeds in the settled offense in the first half and in transition in the second.
"I think we worked together really well today, and that helped give us the early lead," Smith said. The team's leading goal scorer (51) connected three times in the second half, including two straight in the first 3:56 of the fourth quarter to open a 9-3 lead.
"I was getting shut for part of the game, but the rest of our players stepped up in the beginning and scored big goals," he said. "My man got a little tired later in the game and I was able to get by him and score a couple."
Winchell would have no part of a defensive lapse, limiting his man to one shot for the game. He's the only senior among the Ridgers' regular defenders, but his steady example of diligence has the younger guys suddenly performing much more like college-ready players.
"Winchell's been doing that all year," Houser said. "I call him the eraser because he takes guys' names out of the scorebook. But he just quietly goes about his business. He doesn't throw a ton of checks and try to take the ball away. He's a kind of wait-and-see guy. He'll wait and see what you're going to do and then get on your hands and lift and push you out when you try to run by him."
Jon Broome pulled Mountain Lakes to within 2-1 when he scored on an extra-man opportunity 2:50 into the second quarter. His club at that point seemed to regain its footing behind the defensive play of Chris Robertson, Dan Badolato and Tyler Batesko and the faceoff work of Mike Sanzone, yet it was unable to manufacture another goal in the half despite some promising looks.
Glen Ridge opened a 3-1 lead when Brad D'Alessandro drew a double-team on a dodge down the middle of the box and fed a cutting Matt Lander with 2:37 left in the half. Spitaletta scored off another nice feed by D'Alessandro :47 later for a 4-1 advantage.
"We have a really good offense and they showed that today," Winchell said. "When you can put a couple away early like that, it gives us the defense a chance to relax and just play our game. We know if we just play our regular defensive game we'll be fine.
Eric Dircks finished with two goals, Dylan Muti had one and Mike Sammaro closed with two assists for Mountain Lakes. Joey Salvatelli scored one goal and Goldstein and D'Alessandro had three assists each for Glen Ridge.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS