UNION, NJ - Legendary University of Alabama Football Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant once famously said, "Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships." If that is, indeed, the case, the case for Summit High School Boys Varsity Lacrosse Team's quest for the crown is about as solid as, well, their defense itself.
Yes, Bryant would likely have nodded approvingly if he was to have witnessed the Maroon and White's lockdown of yet another top-shelf opponent, not to mentioned the body of defensive work Summit has assembled all season, especially in the NJSIAA playoffs where the boys from the 07901 have allowed just 12 goals total in their six-tilt march to the ultimate game.
The latest Hilltopper defensive pièce de 'résistance came in the form of a 6-3 victory over Mountain Lakes in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal at Kean University. The three goals scored by the Lakers are two fewer than their previous low-goal output of the year, with Summit's 'D-chievement' even more prodigious when one considers Mountain Lakes came into the game having scored 93 goals in its previous six games.
Senior Eamon McTernan and junior Skyler Schluter each scored a pair of goals for Summit, and senior captain Will Vitton -- with 11 saves -- and the corps of defensive engineers in front of him did the rest, as the Hilltoppers built a 5-1 first half lead and then held the fort over the final 24 minutes of game action.
It was McTernan who opened the scoring at the 10:14 mark of the first quarter, driving hard to his left and blasting a knee-high shot inside the right pipe past Garrett Smith in the 'Lakes goal.The Lakers tied it almost exactly four minutes later when Matt Barkauskas scored, but Summit got two goals in the final 4:15 of the frame to take a 3-1 lead.
First senior Tom Fischetti, after taking a feed from junior Charlie Collins, lasered a shot from straight on low into the cage, and then Schluter curled around the crease from 'X' to the left post to surprise Smith up high with a quick release.
The near-perfect start for Summit got even better in the second quarter as senior Nick Thompson emerged with the rock after a series of frenetic loose-ball scrums and bounced a shot home at 8:21. Then Schluter got his second when classmate Greg Moller set him up on the right doorstep and he hit the upper right-hand corner of the net.
Mountain Lakes did get a goal back 1:38 before the break when Mike Cabana scored, and the teams went to halftime with the Hilltoppers leading. 5-2.
Summit was up by three goals halfway through the game despite having grabbed only one of five face-off wins, a stat and fact mitigated by their ability to force turnovers and get stops. The Lakers didn't help themselves with a couple of unforced errors, but even some of that can be at least partially ascribed to the Hilltoppers' defensive pressure.
it looked like the team in orange fancied a comeback when Matt Goodbar scored at 7:24 of the third quarter to narrow the Hilltopper lead to two, especially in light of the fact that Summit suddenly looked slightly anemic on offense and, when they did get a shot on target, Harrison Thompson -- who replaced Smith in goal at the half -- was there to make the save.
The third stanza ended 5-3, and the fourth quarter belonged almost entirely to both defenses, with neither team able to break through until the final two minutes. When that break through did finally arrive, with 1:44 left on the clock, it was the same player who opened the game's scoring -- McTernan -- that finished it and cemented the outcome.
"We felt it was important to get off to a great start and we got the lead," said Summit Head Coach Jim Davidson. "Both teams made adjustments and, in second half, both teams really clamped down. We wanted to be patent offensively and our 'D' did a nice job today."
Second-seeded Summit, now 19-2 and winners of 12 straight games, will face top-seeded Delbarton in the TOC championship game June 9, at 7:30 p.m., at Kean University. The Green Wave, who dumped Watchung Hills 10-3 to reach the final, handed the Hilltoppers one of their two losses on the season, a 10-6 setback on April 24.