SUMMIT, NJ - Charles Dickens once wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
In the Tournament of Champions Lacrosse Semifinals at Kean University, the Summit High School Boys Varsity Lacrosse Team's best of times was its opening half, when they won possession, managed the tempo, took their opportunities and -- overall -- executed the game plan to near-perfection, taking a well-deserved 5-2 lead to the break.
The worst of times? Well, that would be the second half, when they struggled to get the ball, didn't take the relatively few chances they had, wore down from the constant pressure of defending their goal, and allowed a talented Bergen Catholic team to surge from behind and take command of the game.
The story's epilogue says that the Hilltoppers season is over, as the Crusaders scored six unanswered second-half goals to knock Summit out of the TOC, 8-5.
The Hilltoppers first quarter was a work of art with Evan Kulpan, Andrew Chase, and Drew Mulholland all scoring to make it 3-0. Summit had the lion's share of the ball, its defense was dialed-in, and Bergen Catholic looked out of sorts.
The Crusaders did get two goals in the second period from Zach Larsen, but those were canceled out by Hilltopper tallies from Riley Flynn and Corey McManus. Summit led by three at the half and appeared to have all the momentum, however it was clear the opening stages of the third quarter would be key in determining which direction the game would take.
The third stanza opened with a Bergen Catholic goal from Brendan Mackie 50 seconds in and -- from a Summit perspective -- it went downhill fast from there. Unable to get possession, the time the Hilltoppers spent in their defensive zone began to pile up.
Soon it was 5-4 after a second Mackie goal, and then the game was tied when Matt Mistretta scored with just 16 seconds remaining in the quarter. The tying was was particularly deflating as, just seconds earlier, Summit had the ball on a re-start, but proceeded to turn it over.
The Hilltoppers also had several chances of their own in the third, but did not finish, which tilted the game's axis even more in the Crusaders favor. Jay Winchell was keeping hope alive in the Summit goal -- he finished with 13 saves, seven in the second half -- but one got the feeling the game would get away unless the Hilltoppers could get control of the ball and execute.
Neither of those musts, however, happened,
The final quarter saw Bergen Catholic take the lead at the 8:47 mark, when Michael Reilly scored, and then pull away with two more goals, from Jeremy Magno and another by Reilly. Down three goals with under four minutes to play, Summit had some looks, but could not find even a lone goal to give them a lifeline.
"We got the ball early, played smart and executed the game plan," said Summit Head Coach Jim Davidson. "In the second half, we couldn't get possession, and were forced to defend for long periods, which wore us down. We also struggled on ground balls and didn't covert a few chances we had, especially in the third quarter."
Davidson's early reflections on the season also had a best-worst feel when he said, "We are happy with the state championship, but our goal is to win the whole thing. We put a lot of effort in and gave it everything we had. We have no regrets."