No. 1 Bridgewater-Raritan wins Group 4
After almost two straight months of loose, confident and oh-so-potent offensive play, Bridgewater-Raritan suddenly found itself uncharacteristically tense and uncertain in the first quarter against Hunterdon Central.
"They came out strong, just as we expected, but we were a little tight on offense," senior middie Ray Mastroianni said. "We knew we had to just keep our composure and play our game and things would fall into place."
Vince Colatriano won the faceoff to begin the second quarter and Bridgewater was suddenly a new team--or should we say that old, familiar one that has carved through opponents this spring with both incredible precision and complete indiscrimination.
Mastroianni, Ryan Hollingsworth and Ryan Mygatt sank two goals apiece in the second quarter when the top-seeded and undefeated Panthers, No. 1 in the MSG Varsity Power Rankings, built a seven-goal lead on their way to a 10-5 win over third-seeded and fourth-ranked Hunterdon Central for the NJSIAA Group 4 championship Wednesday night at Brooks Field in Somerville.
Bridgewater (19-0) will be seeded No. 1 for the upcoming Tournament of Champions, so will have a bye until the semifinals on Wednesday at Kean University. But the Panthers also caught a tough break with an injury to Colatriano, one of the state's top faceoff men. His left the game late in the second quarter with a cut to his left hand that required stitches after being gouged by the jagged end of a broken stick.
Hollingsworth, a senior attackman, maintained his red-hot hand with four goals and one assist and senior middie John Longordo finished with four saves to guide Bridgewater to its second straight Group 4 title and stretch its state-high winning streak to 34 games.
Hunterdon Central finished 18-3, with two of the losses at the hands of the Panthers.
That first meeting, a 10-4 win for Bridgewater, wound up being a template for this championship encounter, as the second quarter then also served as the pivotal stretch of play.
The Panthers put together a 6-1 second quarter for an 8-2 lead back on April 25 and otherwise played relatively even with Hunterdon. The clubs were tied at 2-2 entering the second quarter Wednesday when suddenly a tornado struck.
"I don't know, something happens; we just exploded," Hollingsworth said. His squad unleashed 15 shots to only one for Hunterdon and it also was 13-0 on ground balls in the frame.
Hunterdon Central was physical, alert and opportunistic in the first quarter and again for most of the second half. But the Red Devils were mere witnesses to Bridgewater's fury in that telling second.
"We were a little frustrated in the first quarter, hit a couple pipes," Hollingsworth said. "After that, coach (Chuck Apel) told us to calm down and relax, and we just came out firing."
Bridgewater did so with several of the usual suspects--like Hollingsworth, who has 26 goals in his last six games and 50 this season, and Mastroianni, with 31 on the year--but also a somewhat surprising thunder source in Mygatt. He came in with seven goals on the season, yet stuck two within a 2:07 span.
"I can't really believe it. The chemistry on this offense is amazing already," Mygatt said. He was extended longer-than-usual playing time when Justin Higgins sustained a minor leg injury. "When they gave the ball to me, I was just happy I was to finish them."
Mygatt opened a 6-2 lead with a sizzling shot from 13 yards out and put the Panthers in front, 9-2, when he cut hard the goal mouth and was fed by Mike DiPascali from behind the cage with 1:44 remaining in the first half.
"You never know how things are going to turn out, but it always seems there's a big game when someone different steps up," Mastroianni said. "Ryan is a good finisher and he stepped up.
"In practice everybody contributes to this team," he said. "We've got depth and everybody is competing. It's not like there's six guys out there. Practice is intense. That doesn't change."
Games against Skyland Conference rival Hunterdon Central are usually intense, too, and the Red Devils made it a point to preserve that tradition. Zack Schreck sank his first of two goals to give Hunterdon the lead with 4:11 left in the first quarter and, after consecutive goals by Serrante and Hollingsworth, Blake Searfoss scored off a feed y Jackson Lee to knot the game at 2-2 with 1:35 remaining.
"They always come out hard," Apel said. "We had to match their intensity and sort of weather the storm and just keep playing. Hunterdon Central is a very good team and they come out and play hard."
Bridgewater initially chose to combat Hunterdon's force with its feet, rather than the quick, short passes that have been the trademark of this season.
"In the first quarter we tried to dodge a little too much and held the ball too much," Mastroianni said. In the second quarter when he all started passing and moving, things opened up. It's hard to cover when everyone is sliding and you find those gaps."
Schreck scored 4:35 into the third quarter for Hunterdon Central, but Bridgewater made it 10-3 for Bridgewater off a pass from Longordo with 1:35 to go. Brian Rickenbach and Searfoss each scored in the fourth for Hunterdon.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS