CRANFORD - A four-goal performance by sophomore Nate Caldwell helped Cranford remain undefeated (8-0) with an 11-7 victory over NJILL - Kimber rival, Newark Academy, on Wednesday.
Caldwell tied things up 3-3 midway through the second quarter on a pass from Michael Kalnins. It was the start of Caldwell's three-goal quarter, with his final coming with just 3.2 seconds left after receiving a long pass from Cranford goalie Phil Marotta and going the distance to help the Cougars take a 7-3 lead into the half.
"It was mainly set up by my teammates," Caldwell said of his big performance. "They made plays and I found a way to get open and finish the play."
Caldwell's fourth goal came in the final minute of the third quarter.
Along with Caldwell's offensive showing, Marotta was a force in net. Though he allowed seven goals, he finished with 14 saves, with seven coming in the final quarter. His strongest showing of the game was when the Cougars found themselves playing three men down due to three penalties coming within 30 seconds of each other. Marotta and the Cougars' defense held strong and didn't allow a goal during the one minute penalty and he saved four shots.
When asked what he was feeling in that one minute playing short, Marotta responded, "You just have to have a little fun with it and let loose and just trust your practice and trust that you know you got this."
Though confident in his practice, even Marotta wasn't sure the Cougars would be able to escape unscatched.
"I was kind of like 'whatever, if one gets in, one gets in,'" he said.
Last season, Cranford lost a close 9-8 matchup with Newark Academy, and members of the Cougars mentioned they've had this game circled on their calendar. With the determination to avenge last season's heartbreaking loss, it could be easily be said it played into Cranford's nine penalties, including two in the first quarter. Cranford head coach Al Reinoso didn't see it that way.
"We have to control our sticks. Some refs let you play and those are brushes and some refs call it all the time," said Reinoso. "These refs were insistent on calling it all the time. It's tough."
Along with Caldwell's four goals, he also had an assist. Dante Cassaro added three goals and an assist. Cole Blazek netted two goals and Kalnins and Conor Halpin each finished with a goal and an assist.
"It indicates a really, really strong team effort," said Reinoso on multiple players contributing. "We get a contribution from everyone and it's because every kid has bought in and worked hard."
Cranford's next game will be on the road when they travel to Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School on Saturday for a 10 a.m. start. The Cougars will return home on Tuesday to take on Montclair Kimberely at 4:30 p.m.
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