Jared Bernstein said he'd waited for what seemed like forever to have the chance to start in goal against a team of Ridgewood's skill and reputation.
And yet after the Mountain Lakes junior halted a potential outburst with an exceptional third quarter, and played a strong overall game, Bernstein treated his long-awaited accomplishment as if discussing how he pulls his socks on each morning.
"It's my job," he said after his 13-save performance helped his Lakers, No. 6 in The MSG Varsity New Jersey Power Rankings edge No. 3 Ridgewood, 6-5, in a rugged nail-biter Wednesday afternoon in Ridgewood.
Chris Cuccinello knotted the score at 5-5 off a feed by Dylan Muti with 1:09 to go in the third quarter and Jon Broome provided the game winner when he rolled in a shot from seven yards away off a pass from Mike Sanzone with 8:34 left in the game.
"I'm supposed to save every ball, and I was seeing the ball well today," Bernstein said. "I've been waiting for this my whole life. But you just have to step in and do what you're supposed to do."
There stands, one supposes, the difference between just dreaming of something and dreaming with a good deal of preparation and perspiration behind it.
He was a sophomore on JV last year as talented senior Andrew Bolland (Washington College) manned the cage for the Lakers. Bernstein now has Lakes off to a 2-0 start and with a significant Gibbs Division victory against Ridgewood (1-1).
"He played awesome," senior defenseman Tyler Batesko said of Bernstein. "It's his first year on varsity and he played great against Ramapo (a 14-7 win Saturday). Today he just took it to a whole other level."
Bernstein, Batesko and the rest of Mountain Lakes' defense had to step up the level of play from Saturday just to see eye-to-eye with Ridgewood. The Maroons had turned in a defensive masterpiece Saturday with their 5-4, five-overtime thriller over Delbarton, and were certainly following a similar path behind junior goalie Noah Pounds (10 saves) and defensemen Tripp Telesco, Ryan Ghaderi and Pete LoParo.
But defense isn't the only thing that wins games, Ridgewood head coach Mike Pounds said, and his club did not tend to some of those other tasks well enough to win.
"We did a good job defensively, but we didn't get the job done in specialized areas--faceoffs, man-up, man-down," Pounds said. "In these close games, that's going to kill you. "And they got the loose balls, too. We got killed in the ground ball area."
Mountain Lakes scored on two of its three extra-man opportunities--one each by Mike Sanzone, who closed with two goals, and Cuccinello--and even scored in man-down when Rob Orazietti capped a fast break that began with a ground ball turnover by Frank Merrill to tie the game at 1-1 2:18 into play. The Lakers held a 30-24 edge in ground balls, with Merrill and Broome leading the way with four apiece.
"When we're focused and we give effort, we'll be okay," Pounds said. "We weren't focused in a lot of situations, like extra-man and finishing our shots. And ground balls are about effort."
Ridgewood's defense did a remarkable job of settling in after yielding four first-quarter goals (though one was an EMO), holding the Lakers scoreless for just over 23 minutes before Cuccinello snapped the drought with his EMO goal late in the third period.
"They played us tough. They're a good defense," Bernstein said. "But our defense stayed strong until we could stick a couple, and that's all that matters."
The defense definitely a number of manageable shots Bernstein's way, though several of his six saves in the third quarter were quality efforts. He stuffed a point-blank offering with 1:42 to go, and Cuccinello connected 33 seconds later.
Both squads dispatched zones, which was not a surprise for Ridgwood since it shut down Delbarton's potent offense with the same look. Mountain Lakes played predominantly man-to-man against Ramapo, though did use a zone at times last year and showed it frequently enough in scrimmage games this season.
"We've got numerous guys who are comfortable with the zone, and during preseason we mixed and matched good to have all that in our arsenal," the Lehigh-bound Batesko said. "It's a pretty easy adjustment for us."
Batesko teamed with juniors Scott Flynn and Uzoma Egbuchulam on the close unit and Merrill manned the pole. This group was missing senior standout Dan Badolato, who sat out with a shoulder injury but could return to action Friday.
"Our D is great," Bernstein said. "Ty was tremendous, Scotty stepped up big and Uzoma was there and will be there. And Danny's going to be back, so we're only going to get better."
Blake Feagles netted two goals for Ridgewood, both in the first quarter to help the Maroons stay to within 4-3. Max Luing also scored in the quarter. Jack Allard tied the game at 4-4 for Ridgewood 3:28 into the second quarter and Connor O'Shea opened a 5-4 lead off a pass by Garcia Logan with 5:25 to go in the third.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS