Artie Tildesley had a funny feeling about how this game against Jackson Memorial might unfold, so the senior goalie requested a longer and more challenging pregame warmup than he's typically accorded.
How right was Tildesley? Well, let's just say that if he ever has a similar hunch about an oncoming storm in the coming weeks, best to batten up the hatches.
Jackson shot often and shot well right from the start, but Tildesley stood his ground and guided undefeated Rumson-Fair Haven to a 6-4 win in a non-divisional Shore Conference battle Saturday at Borden Stadium in Rumson.
Tildesley stopped five shots in the opening quarter--most of them of the in-close, one-on-one variety--and finished with 18 saves, while Jack Curran, Ryan McCausland and Dominic Padula sank two goals apiece to power the Bulldogs (10-0) in this rematch of the 2011 Shore Conference Tournament final, won by Rumson. Jackson (9-3) has lost five straight to the Bulldogs since 2006.
"Artie was huge for us. He was definitely the key to the game," Padula said. Padula played a vital role himself with an opportunistic goal off a ground ball early in the third quarter for a 5-3 edge and a tough, off-balance shot after a gutty dodge with 7:33 to play in the game for a 6-4 lead.
"He runs everything," Padula said of Tildesley. "He's all-out every practice, working his hardest, making everyone else better. He directs beautifully and he just makes every save we need him to."
Rumson definitely needed Tildesley's stingiest behavior, especially early in this game and also in the final four minutes as the Jaguars launched a fierce comeback effort.
Jackson controlled the tempo and dominated possession time at the start of the contest, yet Rumson emerged from that opening period with a 1-0 lead on Curran's first goal with 4:50 to go. The senior attackman opened a 2-1 lead off a feed by George Massabni 2:02 into the second quarter.
"I saw the ball well," Tildesley said. "I made sure I did more warmups than usual because I knew this was a powerful offensive team. I saw a little game film on them and I could tell I really had to come up big."
Tildesley also knew that from last year, when he turned away 12 shots to help Rumson to a 12-3 decision over Jackson for the SCT championship. This current Jaguars group also came in averaging 12.9 goals a game, a point not lost on Tildesley.
Ah, but Rumson came in allowing only 3.3 goals a game behind Tildesley's direction and ball stopping and the cohesive play of veteran poles Bryce Harlan and Charlie Gravina and sophomore close defenders Connor Phillips, Dylan Zohn and J.T. Jennings.
"It's a young close unit, but they're all great one-on-one players," Harlan said. "The lack of experience has been a kind of stepping stone, but I think they're really rising to the challenge."
Jackson scored three times in the second quarter to forge a 3-3 tie, though two of the goals came on extra-man opportunities--one by Connor Cunningham and one by Nick Wolf, who led the Jaguars with two goals. Wolf sank Jackson's only goal of the second half when he completed a fast break off a pass by Evan Farrar to pull his squad to within 5-4 with 2.1 seconds left in the third quarter.
Jackson presented itself with a number of strong scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter, but once again found an unyielding Tildesley standing sentry at the goal mouth. Eight of the Jaguar's 11 shots were on target, only to be rejected by the Elon University-bound keeper each time.
"He made some nice saves," Jackson head coach Nick Caruso said. "We had opportunities, but he came up big. We knew he was good and he played good. We had some one-on-one matchups that we didn't capitalize on."
You could almost see Caruso's mental notebook filling up as he discussed Tildesley's excellent goaltending. The coach has a strong feeling these two teams will be meeting up again in the SCT and sounded eager for another go at it.
"We had opportunities," Caruso said. "Another time around it could be a different result. We'll be back. These kids are special, they work hard. I think this is the motivation we need to move forward."
It seemed as though Tildesley did a little generous bailing for his young defense both in the early and late stages of the game, only that isn't the way he saw things.
"Jackson's a great team, and our defense really stepped up when they had to," he said. "They work hard an d they always want to work hard. When they become seniors they're going to be awesome."
Curran had netted 11 goals in his previous three games and seemed poised for another offensive outburst after sinking the Bulldogs' first two goals. He was hounded by Jackson's defense after that, though, and attempted only two more shots the rest of the way.
"That usually happens at the beginning of the game," Padula said. "Jack steps up big almost every game like that, but then they start to notice that he's there and are all over him. That's when he need other people to step up."
McCausland tied the game at 3-3 with a sizzling shot from 13 yards out with 1:05 left in the opening half, and opened a 4-3 lead with a running bouncer off a dodge from the top of the box 1:15 into the third quarter. He and Padula each tied a season high with two goals apiece.
The Rumson defense has allowed only 12 goals over the last five games, and very few has actually been scored in six-on-six situations. Only two such goals were posted Saturday.
"It was a pretty tough first half. We just had to keep our composure," Harlan said. "It was huge to have Artie in the cage stopping those shots. That keeps everyone really confident."
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS