BASKING RIDGE, NJ - The Chatham boys lacrosse team might consider this "Challenge Week" at this early juncture of the 2014 season.
The first challenge for the defending Group 2 state champions came on Saturday when the Cougars faced Ridge, ranked No. 1 in the state, the defending Group 4 state champion and the reigning Tournament of Champions winner.
Chatham came up short in this first challenge, absorbing an 11-7 loss to Ridge on the road in a game played through miserable rainy conditions. Next up are lacrosse powerhouses, Summit on Tuesday and Mountain Lakes on Thursday.
Chatham coach Tony Calandra told his team after the game that the goal from now through the end of the season will be to raise their level of play.
"We need to play harder and better," Chatham coach Tony Calandra said.
Robert Melchionna scored to get Chatham (1-1) off to an early lead, but Ridge (2-0) tied it up just 12 seconds later. The Red Devils took a 4-2 lead into the second period. Richard Berger and Will Barnett netted consecutive goals for Chatham to make it 4-4. The Cougars had a chance to take the lead, but couldn't score during a two-man advantage.
"We let a couple of opportunities get by us," Calandra said. "Back when it was 4-4, we had a two-man man up and didn't convert. They went down and scored. I think that was a turning point. We did play better in the second half, but we need to play better."
Thomas Berger opened the scoring in the second half, cutting the Chatham deficit to 6-5 before Alex Gaydos connected to give Ridge a 7-5 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Chatham was hurt by the absence of David Gill, who came off with 7:27 left in the third and didn't return until the fourth quarter. Gill had been injured when he was hit in the groin by the ball.
Ridge struck just 12 seconds into the final period on a goal by sophomore Matt Mullan. Another sophomore standout, Kevin Quigley, then scored two straight goals to boost the lead to 10-5. Quigley ended with four goals and Mullan finished with two.
Chatham rallied late in the game as Barnett scored his second goal with 3:15 showing and Gill hit the back of the net with 2:27 left.
For Chatham, Austin Pierce ended with a goal and an assist, Barnett, Gill and James Sullivan each notched an assist.