by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School boys lacrosse team mounted a fantastic comeback in the second half of the game against their opposite number from Montclair Kimberley Academy, but an early MKA lead and some big saves late from Cougars goalie Alex Melitz helped MKA hang on for a 12-10 win.
The game was a tale of two halves, with the Cougars dominant in the first two and a half quarters, as they built a big 7-1 lead in the first half. MKA then extended it to 11-2 lead midway through the third quarter.
MKA’s goal scoring blitz was led by Jason Gertz, who scored his third goal of the day with 3:56 left in the first half. Gertz would end the day with three goals and a pair of assists as well. Zach Kirsch’s third goal made the score 11-2 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter and things looked dim for the Mounties.
MHS didn’t quit however, and began to turn things around with a John Painter goal with 4:44 left in the third period. Then Dylan Vespole found the back of the net with just four minutes left, and then again a short time later to make the score 11-5.
The Cougars were back on their heels, struggling to communicate and unable to keep the Mounties from finding a way to attack the goal. For MHS’ part, they were finally moving the ball well on offense and giving goalie Ashton Smith a break with stout defense, disrupting MKA passes and not allowing shooters clear lanes to see the goal.
Joe McBride and Will Schiffenhaus both scored, and that along with Painter’s fourth goal brought the score to 11-9.
Slowly, though, the Cougars found their footing again on both offense and defense as Rollins Heath scored to extend the lead to three goals. Painter responded with 54 seconds left to make the score 12-10, but then Melitz made two outstanding saves to preserve the lead and the win,
“With that third quarter, I give full credit to Montclair,” MKA head coach Paul Edwards. “When we were up at halftime, I felt like a lot of things went our way but I still expected it to be a game. I didn’t expect them to have as big a comeback as they did but that’s all credit to them.”
“I’m obviously very proud of the way they came back in the second half,” Mountie head coach Mike Diehl said after the game. “It’s hard to dig yourself out of a 7-1 halftime deficit. But I think it does show a lot of character, and a lot of our older guys definitely helped us out in that run.”
Diehle said a lot of things clicked in the second half, though the comeback was led chiefly by the efforts of a few players.
“[Painter] really took the team and led the team. Dylan Vespole, another senior, had two goals. We started winning faceoffs, we started communicating, playing hard on defense. Definitely happy with the way we came out in the second half, but it’s just frustrating we didn’t do that in the first half,” Diehle said.
While disappointed that the Mounties came back the way they did, Edwards was still pleased with how his Cougars responded in the final moments of the game.
“Our guys had to battle all the way to the end,” Edwards said. “I’m proud of them because when things go the way they did, it can be easy to roll over and just say ‘we blew it.’ But we got it together at the end. Alex made some nice saves, we got some key ground balls, made some nice checks. Real happy with the win. It’s a big one for us.”
The season started off well for the Cougars, who now stand at 4-1, with two wins in their division. Edwards likes what he sees from his team.
“We have a nice balance. Eight juniors, five sophomores and a really strong freshman class. So far the chemistry is really good. We lost an overtime game against Millburn, but that was a lesson learned. We let that get away from us a little bit,” Edwards said.
Those lessons made a difference for the Cougars at the end of the win over Montclair.
“You have to play 48 minutes. Can’t start counting a win until it’s over,” he said.
On Monday, the Cougars definitely put that lesson into practice.
The Cougars next face Oratory on the road Saturday April 14, while the Mounties, now at 1-4, faced Glen Ridge on Wednesday April 11 after press time.