CHATHAM, NJ - Despite eight penalties and a few turnovers, the Chatham boys lacrosse team earned high marks on Tuesday as it prepped for a state tournament run it hopes will end with a third straight state championship.
According to Chatham coach Tony Calandra, the Cougars' 7-3 victory over Bridgewater-Raritan, the No. 1 seed in North Jersey, Group 4, was the most complete game his team played this season.
"We needed to get back to what we've done positive this year and work on the stuff we haven't done so well," Calandra said. "We started to ride out much better today; better decision making with the ball. Even though we turned it over a bunch, we played with more energy. We got some man-down work in. We came out and took the game instead of letting teams do what they want to do. I thought it was our most complete game of the year."
That's good news for Chatham lacrosse followers since only a regular-season game against Kinnelon remains before the Cougars (13-6) begin their quest to win a third straight Group 2 crown on Saturday with an 11 a.m. meeting with Demarest at Cougar Field.
David Gill picks up rebound of his own shot to score against Bridgewater in video below
Chatham opened the scoring when Scott Lynch cut toward the cage and put away a pass from behind the net from Rich Berger. David Gill connected with an unassisted blast before setting up another Lynch goal on the final play of the first quarter, making it 3-0.
But the tone of the game was set by Chatham's defense and 5-4, 130-pound goalie Matt Grilli, who made nine saves in holding Bridgewater (8-7) to three goals.
The Panthers had eight man-advantage opportunities in the game, but Grilli received great protection from defensemen Patrick Caufield, Nick Hill and Will Sullivan, along with long-stick middies Danny Winschuh and Mark McNally and defensive middies Connor Sardini and Robert Melchionna.
"I was pretty proud of the defense," Grilli, a junior, said. "They didn't really get too many inside shots. The defense gave me shots that I would be able to save and I was really happy with the way they played today. It feels good to play the whole game. Last year, I played JV and I'm starting to come into my own. I'm really proud of what I've done."
Gill's bounced in a shot with 1:55 left in the half to stake Chatham to a 5-1 lead a the break. Sean Thomas scored his second goal to cut it to 5-2 for Bridgewater in the third, but the defense stiffened and Rich Berger scored off a pass from Gill to make it 6-2 with 6.9 seconds left in the period.
"All we've been talking about is playing harder and getting back to playing aggressive," Sardini said. "There were way too many penalties, we have to clean that up. But it shows we're getting back to playing aggressive lacrosse. If we keep playing like this we'll be where we want to be. I thought he played great today. Only letting in three goals to them shows how dedicated (Grilli) is."
After last week's 7-5 loss to West Morris in the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals, Chatham regrouped and is showing that it has woken up in time for the state tournament.
"I thought we hit a little lull," Calandra said. "Sometimes you need a punch in the face to wake up and that's what happened when we lost to West Morris. It woke us up. We responded well in practice and in the game. Offensively and defensively we played well. (Bridgewater) is a good team. They beat Ridge two weeks ago and they're the No. 1 team in North Jersey, Group 4."