CRANFORD – Going from a 7-11 finish in 2017 to an 11-7 record this season, Cranford High School boys lacrosse head coach Al Reinoso described the season as a surprising, but well deserved turn around.
Last year, it took the Cougars more than half of the season to really find themselves. Through the first nine games, their record was 1-8, and though 12 games it was 2-10. Despite the hardships, the Cougars never quit and were able to win their next five games before falling to Somerville in the first round of the state tournament.
“It ended up being a big turn around that started midseason of last year,” said Reinoso. “It carried into the offseason and into this year, which was great because we lost a lot of starters from that team. We had a few question marks coming into the year, but they did a really good job of working hard and staying positive all season.”
In total, Cranford graduated 10 seniors last year, including two of its top three scorers in Dan Allen (43 goals, 21 assists) and Connor Fitch (30 goals, 20 assists). Hunter Brogan, who had 37 goals and eight assists in 2017, remained, and was expected to shoulder a much heavier load.
Brogan took the extra pressure and ran with it, finishing with a team-high 52 goals and 14 assists in 2018. Along the way, the Cougars were able to replace Allen and Fitch with three new scoring threats in Cole Blazek (37 goals, 26 assists), Conor Halpin (25 goals, six assists), and Dante Cassaro (24 goals, 30 assists).
After losing in the first round last year, Cranford made it to the quarterfinal round of the state tournament this season, before falling to Wall 14-6. Reinoso made mention of a bunch of exciting games throughout the season, but put an emphasis on the Cougars 9-8 victory over Montclair Kimberley.
“Montclair Kimberley was a strong team this year,” said Reinoso. “Traditionally, we have a hard time with them, but we managed to beat them with a buzzer-beater shot by Hunter Brogan. Literally, at the last split second, it hit the net as the timer went off. Emotionally, that was probably our high point this season.”
The Cougars will graduate five seniors, including Brogan, who will go on to play at Stevens Tech. Coach Reinoso will look to the juniors turning seniors (Halpin, Cassaro, and goalie Phil Marotta) to step up into bigger leadership roles for next year. Reinoso also expects Blazek, who will only be a junior, to continue to grow as an offensive threat.