CHATHAM, NJ - It's been hard to pinpoint a weakness in the play of the Cougars during the Chatham boys lacrosse team's run in the state tournament this season.
But it's easy to point to the Chatham defense as a positive factor that has put the Cougars one win away from the North Jersey, Group 3 state championship.
Top-seeded Chatham put its defense on full display against a high-scoring Cranford team on Wednesday and left Cougar Field with a 13-6 win in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Group 3 semifinals.
Because of the win, Chatham (14-6) will stay home for the Memorial Day weekend, playing host to No. 6 seed Mendham (12-6) at noon Saturday at Cougar Field to decide the North Jersey, Group 3 title.
The defense, along with a balanced attack that featured three goals apiece by Colin Hart, Mason Agostinelli, and Grant Webster helped Chatham overwhelm Cranford (18-3), which came into the game averaging more than 10 goals per game. The Cougars entered the fourth quarter with a 12-3 lead.
Chatham senior captains Colin Hart and Colin Pierce talk about the win
Senior defenders Pierce, Jake Wingate, Luke Agnew, James Ehler and sophomore Griffin Kology protected goalie Trey Von Heill while the Chatham offense warmed up to the task and built a 6-1 lead heading into the halftime break.
Webster connected for the first goal of the game with 2:56 left in the opening period after receiving a return pass from Patrick Conte (1 goal, 3 assists) and scoring on a move from behind the net (see below).
Senior middie Ryan Lonergan's interception of a Cranford pass and his clear into the attack set up Hart's underhand shot (see below) off a feed from Aidan Decker (1 goal, 4 assists) for a 2-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Webster made a move from behind to score off a feed from Decker. Sophomore Nick Jones followed with a spin move and finish for the fourth goal (see below). Just eight seconds later, Chatham made it 5-0 when Hart won the faceoff and Conte scored off a quick pass from Decker.
Danny Mahoney blasted home a shot off a feed from Jones to make it 6-0 for Chatham (see below).
"I thought we played really solid," Chatham coach Tony Calandra said. "We gave up a couple of goals late, but I thought we possessed the ball, won faceoffs and shot the ball well. Again, we just tell them they have to work in practice every day to be prepared to play in these games and I think we did that.
"We do have a lot of balance. Throughout the last month, we've had 12, 13 guys score goals in games."
Chatham salted the game away with a six-goal outburst in the third period, highlighted by Agostinelli's three goals on four shots taken in the period.
COUGAR NOTES: In addition to his hat trick, senior middie Hart won 15 faceoffs in the game for Chatham ... In state tournament wins over Fair Lawn, Wayne Valley, and Cranford, the Cougars have outscored their opponents 46 to 9 ... Chatham defeated Mendham in the regular season, 11-6, on May 2 at Cougar Field. In that game, Colin Hart finished with four goals, an assist, 16 faceoffs won and nine ground balls. Aidan Decker had a goal and three assists in the win over the Minutemen ... Chatham is vying for its first state boys lacrosse title in Group 3.