CHATHAM, NJ - When Thomas Guida was lost before the season due to injury, the Chatham boys lacrosse team was left with a big hole in its offense.
Rich Berger has taken it upon himself to plug that hole with his play on the attack. The senior was at it again on Tuesday, producing two goals and four assists in Chatham's 9-8 thriller over Seton Hall Prep at rain-drenched Cougar Field.
"I'm really excited to step up this year being that Thomas Guida is out," Berger said. "He's one of the most unbelievable players I've ever seen at the high school level. Austin Pierce, my brother (Thomas), me, David (Gill), all the offensive players are trying to raise their games. I still don't think we've found ourselves as an offensive team, but we're doing pretty well."
Seton Hall Prep took an early 2-0 lead, but Berger sparked Chatham late in the first quarter by passing to Will Barnett, who finished for the first of his four goals. Berger then connected for a goal before earning another assist on a Pierce tally that made it 3-2 for the Cougars with 47 seconds left in the quarter.
"He has great vision and he's done a lot for us," Chatham coach Tony Calandra said of Berger.
In the second quarter Berger was on the finishing end of a great passing sequence for Chatham to make a 5-5 game. David Gill had zipped a pass forward to Barnett. The junior quickly swung a pass left for a charging Berger, who planted it in the back of the net. Barnett's scoop and shot from in front of the net then gave Chatham a 6-5 edge heading into the break.
"He's always keeping his head up and he's been able to find the open guy to finish it.," Barnett said of Berger. "We've been able to connect. Two lefties out there. It's been fun."
In the third quarter, Chatham put it all together, shutting down Seton Hall Prep and scoring three goals to build a 9-5 lead. Barnett scored the first goal of the third for the Cougars before Pierce netted one off a Berger feed. Barnett collected the ninth goal.
On April 10, Chatham had scored nine goals in the third period on the way to a victory over Westfield. That game seemed to give the Cougar offense the confidence shot it needed.
"I think we're just a better third-quarter team," Berger said. "Against Westfield, we scored nine goals, which was just astonishing for us. I think we're just starting to find ourselves as a team. It's a very good sign. Seton Hall is an unbelievable team. The fact the we can score nine goals on them with two unbelievable goalies and their defense is pretty good."
Seton Hall Prep then took over the fourth quarter as Chatham tried to hold on through the severe weather conditions.
"We were trying to be patient and work it around, but their goalie came up with a couple of big saves and we thought we had enough to win it and we did," Calandra said.
Chatham received a key defensive effort from senior Nick Hill, whose assignment was Jules Heningburg of Seton Hall Prep. Heningburg had scored 18 goals in the first four games for the Hall, but was limited to one goal by Hill.
Dan Ferguson's goal with 1:56 left cut the deficit to 9-8 for Seton Hall Prep, but it never got another one past Matt Nestler, who had three saves in playing goal for the second half. Matt Grilli made four stops for the Cougars over the first two quarters.
"We planned to split them and I thought they played real well.," Calandra said. "Their only loss was to Delbarton in overtime. We knew they'd battle us all the way. This is another step to doing what we want to do this year."
Austin Pierce scores in the second quarter off a pass from Rich Berger in video below