This was all unchartered ground for Somerville in a season that has been absolutely stuffed with new experiences.
But, once again, it carried itself as if it had been in this situation a hundred times before.
Suppose that's what being a Pioneer is all about.
Undefeated and fourth-seeded Somerville used a balanced early effort to build a three-goal lead 4:04 into play and a later surge by Logan LeBlond to pull away in the second half for a 12-4 win over fifth-seeded Pingry Wednesday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Somerset County Tournament at Brooks Field in Somerville.
LeBlond posted his second consecutive five-goal game and Matt Raposo and Casey McAdam each scored twice to guide the Pioneers (15-0), No. 8 in the MSG Varsity Power Rankings, to the program's first SCT victory and set up a semifinal-round date with top-seeded and top-ranked Bridgewater-Raritan Saturday in Bridgewater. Bridgewater, the defending champion, beat Rutgers Prep 17-6, Wednesday to advance.
"We're looking forward to a great rest of the regular season and a good post-season run, but we're just trying to stay modest, trying to keep a level head and play smart," Raposo said.
Hard not to be swept up in all this. The Pioneers, in their eighth varsity season, recently clinched the Skyland Conference-Raritan title for their first conference championship ever, and also set a school record for victories with No. 15.
Big milestones, but nothing warranting handsprings yet. Cool and Composed continue to accompany Raposo, LeBlond and Joe Murphy on this young, potent attack line. Raposo and Murphy are juniors and LeBlond only a sophomore.
"I think we're doing a pretty good job of not making too much of this and coach (Gilman Eaton) is doing a good job of keeping us mellow, understanding one game at a time," he said. "It's the first county tournament game we've ever won, but now we just move on."
The Pioneers do so with a versatile offense that seems to grow more unselfish and multi-faceted by the week and also with a defense that has been consistently stingy. Senior Kyle Lieb made five saves behind a young close unit led by junior Chris Contino and sophomores Pat Grega and Mike Dimino, along with poles Mike Murphy, a senior, and Eric Dluhy, a freshman.
"We all worked together and played as a team," Contino said. "And getting the early lead was great. Casey (McAdam) did a great job winning the faceoffs and the offense possessed. If the ball doesn't come down to the defensive side for us, they don't have a chance to score.
"It's great to know you have a good offense that can always help out your defense."
The favor was certainly returned in the third quarter when Somerville's offense stagnated temporarily against a revamped Pingry defense. Contino's group stood firm to negate any issues. Pingry (6-7) was held scoreless on just four shots in the third quarter and went through the entire fourth quarter without an attempt.
"The defense is doing real well this year. They work together, they talk it out," Eaton said. "Pingry's tricky. You see what happens with all the scramble balls in the crease; they pick them up and dump them in. We had to make sure we were right on top of that, and did a pretty good job with it for the most part."
Pingry did steal a bit of momentum with two goals in the final 47 seconds of the first half--a sweep by Tom O'Reilly and a transition goal by Justin Gump with three seconds left--to bring Big Blue to within 8-4. Just prior to that, momentum seemed to belong to Somerville when LeBlond netted his second goal of the half for an 8-2 lead with only 1:43 remaining.
"Those last couple of goals of the second quarter is the stuff we've kind of been harping on all year," Raposo said. "Try to play smart and don't let up those kinds of goals. We had to talk again about being smart and not letting them get momentum like that."
Somerville's crisp cuts and constant ball sharing early in the game made it difficult for Pingry to interrupt the Pioneers' tempo.
McAdam, Raposo and Jared DeLouisa each connected once to give Somerville a 3-0 lead. Mike Waterfield opened a 4-1 lead with 1:16 to go in the first quarter, and Alex Karlis and Raposo struck in the first 4:20 of the second quarter for a 6-1 lead.
LeBlond was the team's sixth goal scorer of the game when he caught a needle-threading pass from McAdam near the left pipe, face-dodged his man and dunked for a 7-1 advantage with 6:49 remaining in the half.
"I think a lot of people stepped up today," Raposo said. "Logan's really stepped up tremendously and Joe Murphy has been playing real well and gaining experience. And our middies are really stepping up, as well. We're really becoming a balanced team."
LeBlond had also popped in five goals Saturday in a 13-5 win over Bernards and has 14 in the last four games. Waterfield has scored seven times in the last four games, giving him 25 for the season, and DeLouisa has five over that span and 20 for the year. Raposo also handed out three assists against Pingry, giving him 37 goals and 40 assists this season.
"It's a team effort, like everything else," Eaton said. "You have the shooters that other teams are going to mark. I'm glad the other guys are taking some shots. It's giving them a little more confidence."
Gump closed with two goals and Chris Albanese scored once for Pingry. Teammate Alex Castle made 13 saves.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS