By ED KENSIK For Montclair Local
For Montclair boys lacrosse the bad news was the result Saturday in the Essex County Tournament final in West Orange.
But the good news is a silver lining amid the 14-2 loss to top-seeded Seton Hall Prep: The club can learn from its weaknesses and work on them before the start of the state tournament.
Head coach Mike Diehl believes this is just a bump in the road on the way to his team’s taking the field for the North Group 4 state tournament starting June 1.
“We had made great strides the last two weeks going into this game,” said Diehl, whose team was the second seed in the county tournament. “As a coaching staff we learned what the weaknesses are and what we need to improve on.”
The Montclair coach did admit that he was looking for a closer outcome on Saturday, as the Mounties found themselves down 6-0 after the first quarter. They never were able to get back up. “I was anticipating making it a more competitive game,” Diehl said.
But he believes that his team will be able to shake off the loss and get ready for the last week of the regular season, starting against rival Montclair Kimberley Academy on May 24. “With the character of our kids that we coach, they will come back Monday ready to go,” he said.
They were absolutely ready to go, as they handily beat MKA 12-5 on Monday, with four goals each by Jared Topf and Luca Ward, as well as goals by Solomon Brennan, Gage Hammond, Konrad Miklaszewski and James Kaz.
Despite Saturday’s loss, the Mounties remain No. 12 in the state.
As it turned out, the difference in the Seton Hall Prep game might have been time of possession and the Mounties’ defense. Montclair was only on the Pirates’ side of the field for 20 percent of the game.
While Montclair’s keeper, senior Charlie Schmitt, gave up all 14 goals, Diehl said that Seton Hall Prep’s scoring was not really Schmitt’s fault.
“Charlie has come into his own and has really stepped up the last couple of weeks,” the coach said. “Defensively I don’t think we helped him out.”
Before the game Montclair’s defense had only given up 18 goals in a six-game winning streak.
On the other side, Seton Hall Prep’s defensive pressure kept Montclair’s offense at bay. In the six-game winning streak, the Mounties’ offense averaged almost 10 goals a contest. The lone goals for Montclair Saturday came from Ward and William Labartino.
“They (Seton Hall Prep) were great on ground balls and great defensive pressure,” Diehl said. “They are a very high-pressure team.”
Along with a pair of games against Seton Hall Prep, Diehl and the Mounties have tailor-made their schedule for the state tournament.
“I think we can make a run,” the coach said about the states. “I think that we need to continue to do what we do every day in practice and worry about what we do and not our opponents.”
It was like déjà vu on Saturday. The Mounties had lost a regular season matchup with the Pirates almost a month before that, 11-2, on April 24 in Montclair.
The Mounties just could not stop the Seton Hall Prep offense, especially in the first 12 minutes.
It started right from the face-off, where Topf, who has had his opponent’s number for most of the season, was outmatched by Seton Hall Prep senior Harrison Rocheville.
“Today wasn’t his day, but I know that come Monday he will bounce right back and respond,” Diehl said. “He has either won 60 percent of the face-offs or dominated every opponent this season. Jared has been a bright spot for us all year.”
Seton Hall Prep went to the goal from the start as it took a 4-0 lead in a little more than five minutes. And it was not going to be the Mounties’ day after Seton Hall Prep senior attacker Jack Dunleavy fired a shot past Schmitt at the first quarter buzzer to put Montclair down 6-0.
At halftime the Mounties were down 11-0, and the Montclair coach gave them options. “We can either bow our heads and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can use the two quarters to be competitive,” Diehl said.
Montclair can take solace in that they held the potent Pirates offense to three goals in the second half, and Seton Hall Prep was scoreless in the fourth quarter.
To get to the ECT final, Montclair dominated third-seeded Caldwell, 9-1, on May 19 in the semifinals at home. The Mounties pulled away in the fourth quarter with four goals. Montclair had balanced scoring against the Chiefs, led by Topf and Ward with two goals each. Seven different Mounties scored against Caldwell, and Schmitt made eight saves.
Next up, Montclair took on Columbia on Wednesday, May 26, with results coming after press time.