CLARK, NJ – It was a banner night for Summit lacrosse as both the boys and girls teams captured Union County Tournament titles just hours apart on the field at Johnson Regional in Clark, this year’s UCT host. The girls got things started with a 16-12 victory over Kent Place before New Jersey’s No. 1 boys team absolutely dismantled runner-up Cranford, 15-2. The Hilltoppers were in control from the opening face-off to the final whistle as they captured their fourth consecutive UCT championship.
“This is why we work so hard, all off-season, winter, spring, everything. The Union County [Tournament] championship means so much,” said senior co-captain Mike Ford. “Cranford is a great team, they always play hard. We just wanted to come out here tonight and play our game and luckily we got out of here with the ‘w’.”
Luck, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with how thoroughly the Hilltoppers dominated their opponent on Saturday night. Ford’s amazing week continued as he pumped in four goals in an inspired performance just four days after notching the game-winning tally against Ridgewood with just 30 seconds left in the final period of play. Summit had trailed late in that game and their record-shattering winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy, but after Sonny Round tied the score at 6-6, the stage was set for Ford’s heroics. As has been the case with Summit since the streak began in April 2009, the Hilltoppers found a way to win – another night, another hero.
“I think the Ridgewood game was a good wake-up call for us,” Ford said after the game. “It made us realize that we’re not unbelievable and that helped us a lot. We used that in this tournament and in this game and we just have to continue to grow and take the next step [in the State Tournament].”
If the past three regular seasons and two postseason runs are any indication of what lies in store for this year’s edition of the Hilltoppers, it would certainly seem to be a pretty safe bet that Summit will yet again march to the NJSIAA Group 2, Section 2 state championship and then follow that up with their third straight Tournament of Champions crown. Yet head coach Jim Davidson – the brilliant yet extremely humble architect behind the Summit program – has never been one to look ahead further than the next game on the schedule. It has been Davidson’s steady hand that has guided the Hilltoppers through these 63 straight wins and numerous championships and even though his team is considered the favorite to once again pull off the title trifecta, the coach knows his team is not only mortal, but in need of more practice and more improvement.
“The [UCT] means a lot and I thought they came out and played hard today,” Davidson said after the game. “I think that any time you’re going into the postseason, whether it’s a county game or a state game, you need to start preparing for the [upcoming] games you have on the schedule because you know the level of play is definitely going to increase, especially once you get into the state tournament.”
Yet while his senior co-captain called the Ridgewood game “a wake-up call,” Davidson refused to characterize his team’s tightest – and certainly most gut-wrenching – victory of the season as such. To Davidson, the main reason why the game was so close and his Hilltoppers needed a dramatic rally in the final few minutes of the contest to turn a late deficit into a victory was this: Ridgewood is an extremely good team. It’s just that simple, really. Summit’s regular season schedule is always packed with the best opponents not only in New Jersey, but in the Northeast and surrounding areas and it’s inevitable that games against teams like Ridgewood – ranked No. 4 in the state by the Star-Ledger – will end up being close, hard-fought affairs most of the time.
“I don’t know if it was a wake-up call and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, but Ridgewood is a quality, quality club,” Davidson said.
“They have a great defense, some really nice offensive shooters and they’re well-coached. I didn’t walk out of that game thinking that we had regressed. I walked out of that game thinking that we played a quality opponent and we happened to come out on top, but there are still many things we still have to work on. That day, luckily enough, we just came up with the possessions at the end and had a chance to pull out a victory.”
On Saturday night, the Hilltoppers did not need a late goal or crucial save in order to secure a victory. By the end of the first quarter, Summit led 6-0 and held Cranford to just one shot in the period. That lone Cranford shot hurled on net by a running Cranford attacker from nearly 35 feet away as time expired in the first. Goaltender Pete Badgley barely moved and fielded the shot more like a routine ground ball than an actual scoring chance. The Hilltoppers built a 10-0 lead before Cranford finally got on the board with a goal off a great individual effort by Tommy Fitzgerald, but Ford answered a couple of minutes later to make the score 11-1 at the half.
When junior midfielder Tommy Celmer found the back of the net with 1:27 left in the third quarter to make the score 14-2 and set about running time, Davidson had long since pulled his starters from the field. On the evening, Ford’s four goals and assist were certainly worthy of MVP consideration, as was Nick Kilkowski’s four-goal, two-assist performance. Terry McKenna scored twice as did Ryan Bringewatt who also picked up an assist. Sonny Round was content with setting up his teammates instead of trying to score and his unselfish play garnered him a three-assist evening while Nick Kitsos tallied a goal and an assist. Celmer rounded out the scoring by picking up an assist on Andrew Miller’s goal, Summit's 15th and final marker of the night.
While Davidson would not point to the Ridgewood game specifically as a turning point or classify it as a wake-up call for his team there is no denying that Summit blew through the UCT and their competition with huge goal outputs and tenacious, stingy defense – in other words, “championship lacrosse.” Whether they were inspired after the Ridgewood game or just out to show the lacrosse world that they were ready to defend their crowns, the Hilltoppers seemed to be acutely aware that they were beginning another postseason run and that the UCT was the first step on an uphill journey that leads back to the mountaintop.
“I feel good [about our chances in the state tournament],” Davidson said. “I think our kids have good attitudes, everyone is working hard and we’re in a good situation right now because everybody knows what our level of play has to be and what our work ethic has to be and as long as we can maintain that, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”