NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Inexperience and growing pains hurt the West Essex High School boys lacrosse team on Monday as a late goal by Pope John High School led to a 3-2 loss for the Knights on their “Senior Night.”

“It’s tough—offensively we’re struggling,” said West Essex head coach Justin Schwindel. “We need guys to execute, we need guys to step up and that didn’t happen today.”

Ultimately, in a tie game with less than four-and-a-half minutes to play, the Lions outworked West Essex to earn the victory. Two late penalties put Pope John up by a player and Tyler Humphrey was the benefactor.

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Humphrey’s goal, with 1:26 remaining, effectively ended the game and sent West Essex to its fourth-consecutive defeat.

“We’ve had a few games this year where we’ve come back, and that’s awesome it shows a lot of character, but closing things out has been a little more difficult and I think it’s going to come,” said Schwindel.

The Knights rebounded in the second half after trailing by two goals. Sam Adams received a precision pass from senior Pat Dingwell to put West Essex on the board with 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Dingwell, one of five seniors on the team, has led the squad with 14 assists on the year.

“The whole game, we were preaching patience,” said Schwindel. “We knew they were playing zone and we knew that after time there were going to be cracks in that zone and it came.”

West Essex continued to ride that momentum into the fourth quarter. The Knights outshot their Lion counterparts 3-1 and eventually knotted the game at two by utilizing excellent defense.

Zach Lemonski’s stick check of his Pope John defensive assignment resulted in a ground ball, which he promptly took to the cage for the game-tying goal with 4:27 to go.

“We rode well in the second half and got an opportunity and thankfully buried that, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” said Schwindel.

West Essex wasted a fine effort in net from goaltender Danny Laible, saved 10 shots from Pope John and effectively took charge in clearing the zone with his defensive unit. The junior has showed tremendous growth over this past season, according to his coach.

“He has steadily become a pretty damn good goaltender and it’s exciting to see because we’ve got another year with him—he’s only a junior,” said Schwindel. “The only thing we got on him about was being a leader back there, because he is our quarterback back there and he’s embracing that role.”

The loss drops West Essex to 3-12 on the season in a year the team knew would be filled with growing pains. Despite the sub-.500 record, the team has earned a seed in the state tournament due to a strong strength of schedule.

“We knew it might be tough sledding because of the schedule we play and because of our youth, but this is a process,” said Schwindel. “What we’re trying to build here is going to take time and we’re laying some important groundwork here.”

Schwindel said he is looking forward to getting key postseason experience in the upcoming state matchup against Montville on Wednesday.