by Andrew Garda
MILLBURN — While the seventh-seeded Montclair High School boys lacrosse team fought hard, too many small mistakes and an overpowering second-seeded Millburn team proved too much for them as the Mounties fell in the Essex County Tournament quarterfinals, 16-9 on Tuesday, May 1.
Even a five goal game by Will Schiffenhaus, along with two goals by John Painter wasn’t enough on a day when the Mounties seemed to find the game just out of reach. Because with each run the Mounties made, the Millers seemed to be able to do them one better.
After trading goals for a few minutes, deadlocking the two teams at two goals apiece, the Millers found their rhythm, building a 10-4 lead heading into the half.
The Mounties seemed to respond after the half, scoring two goals in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
But then Millburn seemed to shake off whatever sluggishness it picked up during the half and built a 13-6 lead. Montclair responded, closing to 13-9, but then Millburn’s offense got going again, building what would end up being an insurmountable 16-9 lead.
“I think we were definitely off to a slow start,” head coach Mike Diehl said after the game. “But in the beginning of the second half we came out and we were playing with a little more effort. A few older guys stepped up as well, but then we kind of let them take it away again, once that wore off.”
The biggest hurdle the Mounties found themselves tripping over during the game were the small mistakes. Dropped passes, and missed assignments on defense were the biggest culprits and as talented as Millburn is, you can’t give them that opening. Often, when the Mounties made a mistake, the Millers were able to capitalize.
While the outcome was disappointing for Montclair, Diehl felt there were some bright spots.
“Will’s been great for us all year,” he said, speaking about Schiffenhaus. “He’s definitely a very hard player to stop, and has a great skill set… Ashton [Smith] has definitely been a bright spot for us. We’re not exactly experienced on the defensive end, and we’ve got a lot of young guys playing defense for us. Ashton has come up with some big saves and played some great games for us between the pipes.”
Smith didn’t get the start in goal, as the team went with Drew Skibniewski to start the game. This was only the third game for Skibniewski, who had to sit out for the first half of the season due to transfer rules, but Diehl hand the staff felt he was coming off a very good week of practices, so they gave him the nod.
After Skibniewski saw a ton of shots in the first half, the coaches decided to give him a break and put Smith in for the remainder of the game. Between the two of them, the Mountie goaltenders saw 34 shots, many of them with clear lines of sight and occasionally shot from right on top of the net.
Between the struggling defense and a somewhat stagnant offense, the Mounties found themselves fighting just to keep up as Millburn found ways to slowly stretch their lead.
Diehl said that while he was pleased with the game Schiffenhaus had, he needed more from the rest of the team.
“That’s kind of been our issue the whole year,” he said. “We need to work together as a team and get better at playing a six man game on the offensive side.”
The Mounties have at least two more games to figure out a solution before the NJSIAA seedings are announced on May 14. They’ll play West Essex on May 7 and Columbia on May 12, and between those two games and a host of practices, Montclair has to find an answer to their offensive and defensive issues so they can make a run in the state tournament.