Jackson clips Red Bank Catholic in OT
Even though Jackson Memorial rallied big after a scoreless opening half, to categorize its inadequacies as a late-starting offense would be only partially accurate.
More to the point, Red Bank Catholic was holding this potent group at bay with an early-stopping defense. And even more specifically, it was senior goalie Chet Tucker doing the stopping.
Tucker spent much of the first half on his head, but Jackson finally turned him right-side up after the break to post an 11-10 overtime victory in a non-divisional Shore Conference Tournament game Monday afternoon in Red Bank.
Jackson used clutch faceoff work by sophomore Scott Wedgeworth and balanced scoring to erase a 10-7 deficit with four goals in the final 2:48 in regulation. Senior attackman Connor Cunningham scored unassisted with 1:25 to play in OT to snap the tie and send the Jaguars (5-2) to their fifth win in six games and drop Red Bank Catholic to 3-2.
"We just kind of stayed on (Tucker)," Cunningham said. "The shots were there in the first half, we just had to start putting them away. We kept fighting."
Cunningham unloaded seven shots in the first half, but was turned away several times by Tucker, who made 12 saves those opening 24 minutes and had 16 for the game. Jackson senior goalie Drew Smith closed with 14 saves, 10 of which came after intermission.
Smith's last save came seconds into the first overtime on a shot in front by junior Chris Whitlock, whose older brother Doug won the faceoff to start OT. But The Caseys turned the ball over 1:53 into the period and Jackson settled it. Cunningham rolled to the right pipe from behind, got a step on his man and swept in a left-handed shot from in close to complete the thrilling comeback.
"We knew we could definitely come back in the game," he said, "so we just kept on shooting the ball. Eventually they fell."
Cunningham and fellow attackmen Nick Wolf and Evan Farrar netted three goals each, with Wolf launching the rally with all of his goals in the first 7:51 of the third quarter, and with Cunningham closing the deal with all of his in the last 11:26. Chris Whitlock paced Red Bank Catholic with four goals.
"Their goalie is really good and he came out and got us early," Wolf said. "But we all got psyched at halftime and said, 'You know this is done. We're not gonna get beat here.' We went out and just kept coming at them, coming at them. It was one goal at a time."
The initial Jackson surge cut the deficit to 5-4 when Wolf dodged from the top of the box and drove in a running shot from 10 yards out with 4:09 to go in the third.
Red Bank Catholic responded with a three-goal burst from Chris Whitlock in a 2:36 span, and Kyle Vill capped off a fast break with six seconds left for a 9-4 lead. Whitlock netted his fourth goal with a no-look, over-the-shoulder shot for a 10-6 lead with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter following back-to-back goals by Cunningham and Farrar for Jackson.
The Caseys appeared to have reestablished momentum with Whitlock's excellent goal, though Wedgeworth snatched it away by winning the ensuing faceoff. And the next, and the next, and…He claimed the last five in regulation and also scored to pull the Jaguars to within 10-9 with 54 seconds to play.
"You're never guaranteed the ball in this game," Jackson head coach Nick Caruso said. "If you have a faceoff guy who gets the ball to you every time, it changes the whole dynamic of the game. Scotty Wedgeworth did a great job for us."
Wedgeworth won 11 of 19 draws in the second half and claimed 14 of 24 for the game. He also provided some timely defensive play with the shortstick behind the Jackson goal after Whitlock had bested him with a strong move for the faceoff to start overtime.
"My heart was stopping because I had to stay out on defense and the guy was taking me behind," Wedgeworth said. "I stuck with him and was able to play pretty good defense. I'm glad I didn't choke."
There was widespread relief among the Jaguars for proving they could claw back from behind. Jackson trailed at halftime in their two losses this season--9-6 to Eastern and 8-5 to Montclair--and feared that Monday's frustrating start would to a third defeat.
"We have a problem right now of getting off the bus and being ready to play. We've been a second-half team," Wolf said. "We turned this into a nail-biter, and I don't ever want it to come down to that. Everybody says these games are fun, but I want to put it away quickly and not go through that."
If Wolf was frazzled in any way, the Roanoke-bound attackman hid it well. He moved through the offense with purpose and shot with great confidence to get things rolling in the third quarter. That poised approach was adopted by attack mates Farrar and Cunningham.
"We have a lot of confidence in our attack," Caruso said. "We feel that any team we play, regardless of where we go, they're going to have a hard time matching up with our attackmen. I told them at halftime, it's got to be you in the second half. And I told the seniors they had to step up."
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS