Staff Writer
Mainland Regional boys lacrosse coach Clayton Smith has been preaching to his players all season to finish games. On Wednesday, the Mustangs finished off visiting Toms River South before the first quarter was even over in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs.
Mainland, the No. 3 seed, came out of the gate firing, scoring four goals in the first four minutes, built up an 8-0 first-quarter lead and cruised to a 20-0 victory over the 14-seeded Indians. The Mustangs, who have never made it out of the second round, will play host to No. 6 Allentown — a 14-4 winner over No. 11 Toms River East — most likely on Saturday morning.
“This is like the pigtail round in wrestling, the Friday night at districts type of stuff. We needed to get out of this game without any injuries. Brendan Kane, our one defensive middie, went down with a tweaked knee and we’re not sure what’s going on with that, but other than that, there were some hard slashes here and there but we did our job early. Every kid who is on our varsity roster and several of our junior varsity players all played. A couple of our JV guys scored goals, and to score in a state playoff game gives them a feather in their cap,” Smith said. “One of the things we’ve been able to do this year is finish games. Last year, we had a big lead on Ocean City in the second game and we let it get away. Against Jackson Liberty (in the playoffs), we had a big lead and let it get away. This year, we’ve finished games. The one game we didn’t finish was against Southern Regional. We finished against Ocean City (in an 11-10 loss), we just didn’t start that well. We are definitely prepared to finish games.”
Vincent Giunta used a nice fake to score the game’s first goal, with 10:21 left in the first quarter, and less than two minutes later Ethan Irizarry ripped home a shot to make it 2-0. Matt Edwards, who finished with four goals and two assists, then scored three straight goals as the Mustangs (13-4) took a 5-0 lead with just less than five minutes to go in the first quarter. Colin Cooke, Antonio Yeoman and Giunta added goals before the period was done as the lead swelled to 8-0.
Mainland kept piling up the goals, extending its lead to 13-0 before Smith sent in the back-up unit. Goalies Hunter Faunce, Timothy Lee and Anthony Tull combined with defenders such as Matt Ognibene, Dylan Dill, Dan Adams, Kane and Kyle Rush for the Mustangs’ first shutout of the year.
“It’s great because this is the first shutout of the season. It’s good to finally get a shutout,” said Ognibene, one of just a handful of seniors on the roster. “Really, our whole mentality for this season and these playoffs is to survive and advance, so we’re just taking it one step at a time, one game at a time. We’re focusing everything we have on one game, then moving on to the next one.”
Ognibene said last year’s playoff loss to Jackson Liberty has been sticking in the Mustangs’ craw, and they’ve been eager for a shot at redemption in the second round. Coach Smith said he and his staff will do everything they can to get the players refocused after such a lopsided first-round game.
“Losing our second playoff game last year, we came out even hungrier this year and we want it that much more,” Ognibene said. “We have great players with great skills, and there is a lot of team chemistry here. We’re willing to be a disciplined team that is hungry to win.”
Said Smith, “The next few days, I’ve talked to these guys about it already — we were a little bad with our catching and throwing, and a little bit lazy — but the next two days is to polish off all the little nuances on offense and go over the defensive schemes and ratchet up all the little things. By now, if you’re not in shape or if you don’t know the plays or you’re not ready to go — that’s not happening the next two days.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays