Mount Olive head coach David Gallucci said the early offensive plan against Livingston was to exercise patience and restraint, to search out weaknesses with a measured tempo.
The idea for the defense, though, was basically to make sure that easy-going pace was never an option for the opponent's offense.
Tyler McEvoy netted two goals and added five assists and Rich Notillo recorded three goals and one assist, but it was the defensive and riding units that set up much of the scoring for Mount Olive's 10-1 victory Friday afternoon in a Klank Division battle in Mount Olive.
Mount Olive (11-1) clinched at least a tie for the Klank title and can claim it outright with a victory Wednesday against Morris Hills. Livingston fell to 7-2 after being held to its lowest goal output this season by a full seven goals.
"Our defense is not about sitting back in a zone, laying off," senior defenseman Austin Niblett said. "It's about pressure defense, keeping the pressure on them and looking for double teams. We make sure we're all flying like crazy mode for the ball, picking up ground balls and clearing out our end."
Seven of the Marauders' 10 goals came either directly from or soon after turnovers, including two transition goals created off the ride, one by McEvoy off a feed from Chris Sanchez early in the third quarter for a 5-1 lead and one by Nick Verone to cap the scoring with 1:35 left in the game. Teammate Dan Schweighardt even scored a man-down goal early in the second quarter after a stick check and ground ball by senior defenseman Logan St. John.
"The defense really gets us going," McEvoy said. "They get intense and then we get intense and then pop a couple in there. We help each other out. I think we feed off each other all the time, in practice and in games, and it kind of goes back and forth."
Both defenses made valiant efforts to spark their offensive units through a scoreless first quarter. Mount Olive's all-senior crew of Niblett, St. John, Joe Brown and Verone on the pole yielded only two shots in the period, while junior John Coyne made five of his 11 saves for Livingston.
"When we were even, six-on-six, we were all over them," Niblett said. Livingston attempted 17 shots for the game and, indeed, all but a handful were unleashed without a strong stick check altering their paths.
"When they tried to dodge, we knew all the ones who could dodge and we just stayed with them," he said. "We knew all their tendencies and we just played hard all day."
The offense used its ball movement and judicious shot selection to make the Livingston defense work harder than it would have liked. That group did a splendid job for most of the game contesting the Marauders in settled situations, but had great difficulty clearing the ball after stops.
"It's something we've been working on all year," McEvoy said of the team's ride. "It's all effort we're looking for because nobody's an all-star on our team. We're all just working hard, working together."
Senior attackman Conor Buoye came in with all-star type scoring numbers (41 goals), though was held to one goal on just five shots. Jimmy Pastena and Tyler Hanson also scored once in the win.
Livingston's Anthony D'Aloia connected with 8:06 to go in the first half on an extra-man opportunity. That's how close Mount Olive came to posting a shutout.
"We have a very athletic defense. They're all seniors and they work hard together," Gallucci said. "They talk and they're all over the field. They all have good stick skills, they understand team defense and they're disciplined with their checks. They know when to throw checks, when to pressure and when not to."
Senior goalie Brandyn Merkle finished with five saves, but was forced to make only one in the first half as Mount Olive built a 4-1 lead. The Marauders seemed to have things under control defensively in the second half, as well, though Niblett insisted that Merkle played a big hand in maintaining that order.
"He stopped about three or four tough outside shots," Niblett said. "There were a few opportunities on the doorstep or where they beat us as we didn't have a slide. Merk had three on-the-doorstep stuffs. Three beautiful saves."
Mount Olive won its second straight game since a 17-3 loss Monday to Summit, No. 2 in the MSG Varsity Power Rankings and the state's best overall program over the last four years. A humbling loss for Mount Olive, for sure, but one that may pay dividends in the Morris County and NJSIAA state tournaments.
"We need to learn from some of our experiences of playing against better teams," Gallucci said. "Summit's good. That's where we have to get.
"Sometimes our schedule doesn't work in our favor and we know it. So, we take a look at the way a team like Summit plays and we try to do that in practice. The way we'll get better if we play against that kind of competition every day in practice."
Mount Olive opened its season with a non-divisional game against Skyline Conference member Hillsborough (a 13-12 win) and faced Fitch-Pitt Division member Mendham (10-3 win) two weeks later. The Marauders' independent schedule was not as strong last season and they fell in the quarterfinals of the MCT and the first round of the state Group 1 tournament despite a 14-4 record.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS