SUMMIT, NJ - By the time the first quarter of Wednesday's Union County Tournament semifinal match-up between Summit and Cranford ended, the outcome of the game was almost a certainty. The Hilltoppers led 6-0 and did not allow a decent Cranford shot or scoring chance in the first 12 minutes of play. From that point on, Summit head coach John Davidson began to rotate in his second team and by the end of the first half, the outcome of the game was no longer in question as the Hilltoppers held a commanding 10-0 lead.
"We knew we just had to come out confident," All-State Summit attacker Johnny Scioscia said after the game. "We knew we had to get a solid win because it was our first postseason game. We were happy with our 15-0 regular season, but we know from now on it's do or die, win or go home. We just wanted to get into the UCT final like we have the previous two years and win the whole thing."
Confidence was certainly not an issue for the Hilltoppers as they jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Marcel Godino fired a laser past Cranford goaltender Bobby Anstatt only one minute into the game. Scioscia then found a cutting Jake Hall for a backdoor shot and score just two minutes and twelve seconds later. Nick Kilkowski scored the first of his three goals on the afternoon when once again, Scioscia found his teammate all alone in front of Anstatt for a point-blank goal. Tim Yager then ripped an absolute laser from the middle of the box past Anstatt just five minutes and 21 seconds into the game to give the Hilltoppers a 4-0 lead. Tom Celmer scored the prettiest goal of the afternoon for Summit when he executed a great spin move that left a Cranford defender on the ground before Celmer drove the net and scored. Kilkowski then finished off the first period scoring with his second goal. Once again, Scioscia found a cutting teammate with a perfect pass. Scioscia finished the game with five assists.
Although the Hilltoppers looked to be just as dominant as they had been over nearly every opponent this year, Scioscia attributed Summit's fresh legs to the double-bye he and his teammates earned during their undefeated regular season. Not only did the Hilltoppers have the luxury of resting during the first two rounds of the UCT, Davidson gave his team some time away from the game after an extremely busy final two weeks.
"The double-bye is great, especially for the postseason because it gives us the ability to take a rest. Coach [Davidson] gave us the whole weekend off just to rest our legs - for me to rest my ankle - and to stay away from lacrosse for a little bit and get our minds off [the game] and come back this week ready to play, ready to get after it," Scioscia said.
Davidson added: "We had gone like two weeks where we had game after game. I think we played four games in seven days, so we got into the weekend [and we let them] get away from it and come back fresh. We had a great practice the other day and today I think we looked lively. It's a new season and hopefully we can keep it up-tempo going into Friday's [championship] game and then going into the state playoffs."
Summit certainly had no issues keeping their game against Cranford "up-tempo" as the Hilltoppers' second and third units picked up right where the starters left off. Goals by Godino, Nolan PRinzen, Kilkowski and Jake Hall rounded out the scoring in the first half and put the Hilltoppers up by a score of 10-0, but the second-string players got the majority of the minutes from midway through the second period until the end of the game. The familiar theme of nearly every player on the Summit bench being afforded at least a few minutes of playing time during a blow-out victory replayed itself on Wednesday afternoon as Davidson was liberal with his substitutions the moment he felt his team's lead would not be threatened.
"I know I've probably told you before, it's nice to get the [second and third team] kids in [the game] but they played hard and worked hard there at the end. They had a couple of opportunities. All three of the goalies had saves," Davidson said.
Although the Hilltoppers added only two more goals - Yager added a second and Nick Kitsos scored Summit's final goal of the game - they did not allow Cranford to generate anything in the way of offense. More impressive than Summit's rampant goal-scoring was the patience exuded by both the offensive and defensive units. While the Hilltoppers' precision ball movement and possession seemed to force Cranford to collapse defensively, Summit's defensive prowess kept the Cougars at bay and far away from the net all afternoon. As usual, Davidson's team did everything thing right en route to yet another convincing victory.
The Hilltoppers will meet Westfield - against whom they played their toughest game of the season, a 9-7 victory at Kehler Stadium earlier this season - in the Union County Tournament Finals on Friday evening at A.L. Johnson High School. Although the Blue Devils gave Summit a run for its money that day, the Hilltoppers were without two All-State players as Scioscia sat with a badly sprained ankle and defenseman Bobby Lawrence missed the game due to stitches in his forehead, an injury he suffered during Summit's previous game against St. Joseph's (Pa.). While Lawrence is completely healed, Scioscia's ankle is still an issue.
"Rest on my ankle for me right now is important, especially with this weather change because it messes with your ankle a little bit," Scioscia said after the game. "It's been tight recently so I've just been trying to keep it loose, keep it iced and keep it taped and in a brace just to limit the possibility of re-rolling it. I'm a little tentative, but day by day I'm going to get better."
Although his team is close to 100 percent healthy heading into the UCT championship game, Davidson acknowledged that there is still room for improvement. While most coaches would be somewhat content with a team that is now 16-0 on the season and hasn't lost since April of last year, Davidson felt that his squad could still up its game another notch.
"It doesn't matter whoever we get in the Finals," Davidson said. "We need to pick up our level of play going into the championship and we have to pick up our level of play going into Group I which will be just next week."