CHATHAM, NJ – Thomas Guida and Joe Ritter scored two goals apiece for the Chatham Cougars, ranked three in the Star Ledger Top Twenty, as they found the back of the net eight straight times after breaking a scoreless tie with 1:35 until halftime before cruising to an 9-2 win over Bernards High School on Thursday afternoon at Cougar Field in Chatham.
Patience, patience, patience. That is what Chatham Head Coach Anthony Calandra has been preaching to his team all season and against a tough, physical Bernards defense the offense executed that game plan perfectly.
After firing nine shots on Brian Fersini’s cage, many of them quality opportunities, the Chatham offense finally broke through on their tenth try when Guida fired a laser from outside the center slot that finally put the home team on the scoreboard.
Chatham would win the ensuing face-off and then Guida would score the last goal of the first half off of a nice feed from Ritter with just 11 seconds left until halftime as they held a 2-0 lead at the break.
“I don’t really think it’s effecting the offense that much. Everything’s kind of different because we’re used to run and gun at the beginning,” Guida said about the Chatham offense scoring so late in the game.
“They (Bernards) were running a zone then. Mostly, they were focusing on Kyle Howard-Johnson who’s a big shooter for us. I kind of was just sitting in the middle. I stepped down and shot, so it worked out well,” he added about his two first half goals.
The Chatham defense had perhaps one of their strongest showings of the season thus far that, according to defensive standout Owen Hewes, matched their effort in a 5-4 win over then higher ranked Delbarton earlier in the year.
The trio of Hewes, Will Weichert and Stephan Thomas forced many of the 20 Bernard’s turnovers through 48 minutes of play as they out hustled the opposition to groundballs and forced many shots from the outside in low percentage scoring areas.
Chatham goaltender Corey Fritts finished with eight saves in the game; six of which game in the first half of play.
“We actually implemented a new zone defense and this is our first game using it. We did a good job today not letting our guard down,” Hewes told the Alternative Press.
And the defensive effort seemed to take the wind out of the sails of a Bernards team that stayed competitive against a heavily favored Chatham team through the first half of play.
From there on out, it was all Chatham as they scored the first four goals of the second half in just over a three minute span.
A Bernard’s turnover led to Howard-Johnson brining the ball up field in transition before he put the ball on Ritter’s stick who buried the ball into the back of the net. Howard-Johnson then recorded another assist just 1:11 later when he fed teammate Sam Carson in front.
Matt Proto would get on the board for Chatham as he put in a hard shot from the right slot after Trip Connors won his fourth face-off of the contest. Howard-Johnson, who leads his team in goals this season, would get his first off of a Carson pass that put Chatham ahead comfortably at 6-0 with 8:40 to go in the third quarter.
“In the second half… they came out in a man (defense), which we do very well against. Coming out against that was much easier for us. We’re so much better with one on one with dodges. That’s just the main thing for us,” Guida commented.
With the win, Chatham improves to 8-3 on their season. They look forward to perhaps their most anticipated matchup of the year thus far when they go up against Summit High School (10-0) on Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Metro Homes Field in Summit.
The Morris County team will be looking for a matter of revenge against the number two ranked team in the state after dropping a 7-6 game that took five overtimes to decide in the Public, Group 2 finals just 10 months ago.
“Yea, we’re ready. We’ll prepare for them,” Guida said confidently.
Ritter, David Gill and Cristof Strunc scored the final three goals of the game for Chatham.