By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Ocean City boys lacrosse team plays one of the most ambitious schedules of any team in South Jersey. The reason? To prepare the Red Raiders to respond in championship moments.
Ocean City faced such a moment on Tuesday in the championship game of the inaugural Cape-Atlantic League Tournament at Stockton University. Heading into the second half, the Red Raiders were tied, 4-4, with upstart Holy Spirit — which came into the four-team tournament as the No. 1 seed based on the Spartans’ 12-2 overall record and spotless 11-0 mark in CAL games.
It was time to make a statement that Ocean City has been — and still is — the best team in the league.
With 3:14 left in the third quarter, sophomore attack Pat Grimley made that statement by scoring the go-ahead goal, putting Ocean City up for good at 5-4. The Red Raiders added two more goals in the fourth quarter and fought off a late Holy Spirit surge to claim the title with a 7-5 victory.
Ocean City’s defense came through in a big way despite being without two starting players, limiting Holy Spirit to just two goals after the first quarter. Starting goalie Winfield Dunn finished with seven saves, and even backup goalie Gavin Neal notched a pair of saves while coming in when Dunn was flagged for a penalty.
“It was 4-4 at halftime, but we adjusted really well. Those goals coming from the crease in the first half — it was a struggle. The 1-4-1 offenses are hard to play against, but we really shut them down in the second half,” said senior defenseman Pat Breslin. “Winfield, man, that was an incredible game from him. His clearing was on point today, his shot stopping. I’ve really been impressed with him this year. He’s exceeded all expectations from every one of us. Last year we had so many seniors — a senior goalie, two senior poles — and even today, Kyle Hendricks, one of our defenders, didn’t play today. Ori Levy-Smith had a 102-degree fever. These are the things we had to go through, and to be able to get the job done says a lot about this team.
“Holy Spirit is not your typical CAL team,” he added. “Those boys work hard and they are going to be really good next year. They have a lot of resiliency. I’ve been playing with those boys, whether it be basketball or lacrosse, growing up. They are good friends, and I know the one quality they have is never giving up. That’s the best test we could have received before the state playoffs.”
“I’m from Absecon. I made the decision to come to Ocean City over Holy Spirit,” said Ocean City senior attack Dom Guerrera, who scored the game’s first goal in the opening quarter. “I have pictures of me playing lacrosse with those (Holy Spirit) players since second grade. Every single one of those kids on that sideline. My childhood best friend was George Coles and he was lined up against me the whole game. And my brother (Anthony) is the defensive coordinator for Holy Spirit and I’m an offensive player for Ocean City. All year we’ve been hyping this matchup up, and we knew it was going to be exciting. We knew they were going to play hard, and I’m just glad we came out with the win.
“Our defense held up,” Guerrera added. “We were without starting defensive middie Ori Levy-Smith and starting defensive pole Kyle Hendricks. So, we were two men down, but some younger guys stepped up really well. Our defense really stepped up and you have to applaud their effort.”
Holy Spirit (12-3) tied the game, 1-1, early in the first quarter on a goal by freshman Anthony Hermenau, but Ocean City (10-7) responded with a tally from Grimley to take a 2-1 lead. The see-saw battled continued throughout the first quarter, as Holy Spirit tied the game at 2 on a goal by Sean Burns before the Red Raiders took a 3-2 lead when Grimley found Jack Davis with 2:36 left in the opening frame. Ocean City took a 4-2 lead on a goal by Tommy Schutta, but Spirit responded with less than five seconds to go in the first quarter, cutting the deficit to 4-3 on a tally by Stanley Marczyk off a feed from Eric Roman.
Spirit got the equalizer, 4-4, with three minutes to go before halftime. Roman shoved a pass over to Marczyk in the middle of the field, and Marczyk fired a goal from about 10 yards out.
“The atmosphere here was great,” Guerrera said. “Both student sections came out strong, the fans were here, the pregame music was loud. It was an awesome atmosphere.”
Ocean City took a 7-4 lead on fourth-quarter goals by Davis and Schutta, but still the Spartans refused to go away. They got within 7-5 with two minutes left on a goal by Roman, but the Red Raiders’ defense held strong the final 90 seconds to seal the win.
Players credited Ocean City’s tough regular-season schedule with helping them survive a tough game like the CAL final. Ocean City has seven losses, but they’ve all come against either state powers such as Don Bosco Prep, Ridge and Rumson-Fair Haven, or to some of the best teams in South Jersey, like St. Augustine Prep, Southern Regional and Haddonfield.
“We are very resilient. Coach (Joe) LaTorre always says that no team has been tested the way we’ve been tested. Our schedule was rough,” Breslin said. “It’s been relentless. There were times when it was tough to get up out of bed, that’s how sore we all were. But we’re ready for this playoff run now, starting (Wednesday) against Colts Neck.”
“When you’re playing against teams like that — no disrespect to these other teams, but when you go play Don Bosco, Rumson-Fair Haven, playing those teams prepared us for adverse moments. That really helped us prepare for this game,” Guerrera added. “We know the job isn’t done. We have plenty of work to do. We have Colts Neck coming into Ocean City (on Wednesday) for the first round of the playoffs. And we could also face Jackson Memorial, Clearview and Shawnee. We’re looking forward to the challenge. In the state power rankings, Clearview, Shawnee and us are all within a point of each other, so you know those will be great matchups.”
What’s next: Ocean City hosts Colts Neck in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs, today at 4 p.m. Holy Spirit has a bye in the first round of the Non-Public B state playoffs and will host either Eastern Christian or Red Bank Catholic in the sectional quarterfinals on May 25, time TBD.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays