MADISON, NJ - In what could be considered a rather large understatement, it would be safe for one to say that the past five days have not been kind to the Madison Dodgers. After bursting out of the gates of the 2010 season with a sparkling 8-0 record, head coach Mark Sweeney's team has now dropped three straight contests. The rough patch began with a tight 10-8 loss at Kinnelon on April 22nd which was followed by a 12-3 drubbing at the hands of the mighty Summit Hilltoppers this past Saturday. On Tuesday afternoon at Ted Monica Stadium on the campus of Madison High School, the Dodgers looked to get back to their winning ways against the rival Chatham Cougars but couldn't cash in on several scoring chances throughout the game and fell in a heartbreaker, 8-7.
"We had chances. We did have chances," Sweeney said after the game. "I thought our defense played phenomenal. We shut [Nick Guida] off in the second half and that really worked for us. We had shots, we had a goal called back, we hit two or three pipes so we did have chances."
Nick Guida opened the game's scoring when he punched home an unassisted goal to get the Cougars on the board at the 3:54 mark of the first quarter. The Cougars jumped out to a two-goal lead when midfielder Matt Proto took a feed from Nick Guida and beat Madison's starting goaltender, senior Ryan Colwell, to give Chatham a 2-0 lead with just 1:45 remaining in the opening period.
At that point, the Cougars looked to be firmly in control, but Madison charged back and made their first run in a game that was full of scoring streaks and momentum changes when senior co-captain Charlie Oldendorp converted a man-up situation for the Dodgers' first goal just 28 seconds after Proto's tally. Junior midfielder Colin McLinden picked up an assist on Oldendorp's goal, but Madison still had one more strike left in them before the first quarter came to a close. With only 17 seconds left on the clock in the first period, senior midfielder Will Stuhler fired a shot through traffic that beat Chatham goaltender Mac Nestler to tie the game at two apiece at the end of 12 minutes of play.
The Dodgers then built upon their first period momentum when Austin Lein gave Madison its first - and what turned out to be its only - lead of the afternoon when the senior attacker walked in front of the net and fired a point-blank shot past Nestler to make the score 3-2 Madison. The goal came nearly one minute after Stuhler rang the post behind Nestler but Sweeney's squad could not sustain their momentum and Chatham came roaring back with three unanswered goals to end the first half with a 5-3 lead.
The remaining nine-plus minutes of the first half after Lein's goal were marked by inconsistent play from the Dodgers, something Sweeney attributed to the team's lack of confidence and focus which stemmed from the Kinnelon and Summit losses. "I think our offense really needs to play with more confidence," Sweeney said. "I don't think we were playing with a lot of confidence today and we need to get that back. We have three losses to three good teams. Hopefully we get it back on Thursday [against Johnson]."
Madison's second half goaltender - junior Brett Anton - kept his team in the game with several big saves before Oldendorp scored the second of his three goals at the 5:32 mark of the period. Oldendorp's goal cut the Chatham lead to 5-4, but just as it seemed like the Dodgers were about to make another run to tie the game, the Cougars got goals from Rob Guida and Sean Whiteman to make the score 7-4 and keep the hard-charging Dodgers at arm's length. With 2:17 left in the third, Madison sophomore midfielder Michael Clemente beat Nestler in tight to the high, right-hand corner to again cut the Chatham lead to two at 7-5 which is where the score remained at the end of the third.
The final period was marked by more aggressive, rougher play by both teams. With the outcome still in question, both teams turned up the heat at both ends of the field and Chatham notched a huge goal when Jack Beattie tallied what became the eventual game-winning goal after the Cougars forced the Dodgers into yet another errant pass. Rob Guida picked up the loose ball and, with Madison's defense unsettled and completely out of position, found a streaking Beattie who beat Anton to push the score to 8-5 in favor of the Cougars.
Oldendorp completed his hat trick with 6:44 remaining and Austin Lein scored his second goal of the game in a man-up situation with 2:10 left, but the Dodgers would ultimately fall just short as Chatham's defense tightened up just enough to keep Madison at bay as time expired.
Though the loss was a tough one for his team to swallow, Sweeney knows that he and his players have little time if any to think about the loss or the losing streak they are currently enduring because the Dodgers' next game is literally right around the corner. Madison will travel to Clark, NJ to take on Johnson Thursday afternoon and Sweeney stated that the only way to mentally emerge from this type of funk is to play hard, play with purpose and play a winning game that re-establishes the confidence with which the Dodgers started the season.
"I think that's it, right now," Sweeney said of his team rediscovering its swagger. "They have to get their confidence back. We play like every other day so we don't have any time to sit around and sulk. We just have to go get it back."