By Tim Morris
Thanks to a six-game winning streak, the Freehold Township High School boys lacrosse team is back among the Shore Conference’s best teams. It comes at just the right time with the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) underway.
“We’ve had some ups and down this year,” Patriots head coach Ryan Eichner said.
Right now, the Patriots are up. After a 3-3 start, they’re 10-4 and in line to finish in a tie for first place in the public school’s Shore Conference A North Division. The Patriots are 6-2 in the division.
The slow start could easily be attributed to the heavy toll graduation took on last year’s A North tri-champions. The Patriots were breaking in inexperienced and new players on attack, midfield, defense and goal. The team has just four seniors.
It was a division loss to Colts Neck High School last month that woke the Patriots up.
“We had a tough loss (11-8) to a good Colts Neck team,” Eichner said. “We hit the reset button and have been on a roll since.”
That roll culminated in a 16-4 romp over a very good Howell High School team, which was one of last year’s tri-champions and is in contention for the public school title.
Junior attackman Josh Nastarowicz has emerged as the Patriots’ leading scorer. He had four goals and a pair of assists in the win over Howell.
Midfielder Mike Colicchia, also a junior, had two goals and two assists in the win in Freehold Township that was played on Senior Night.
Drew Dunn, another junior, has been the team’s playmaker from midfield, leading the team in assists. Sophomore Chris Novella has complemented Nastarowicz on the attack line.
In their win streak, the Patriots have not had a close game. Seven goals is as close as anyone has come to them — non-public Christian Brothers Academy snapped the win streak May 5, 14-4.
The strength of Freehold Township from the start has been on defense, where seniors Ty Sebor and Tyler Von Nessen and junior Shawn Poole provide experience and leadership. The defense has been especially stingy since the win streak began.
“Our defense is starting to really come together,” Eichner said. “We will go as far as our defense takes us.”
Sophomore Billy Patten, who had seven saves against Howell, and Aidan Purcell, a freshman, have been splitting time in goal for Freehold Township.
According to Eichner, the Patriots need to outwork teams in order to go far in the SCT and later in the state tournament.
“Our teams need to play consistent and continue to win the hustle plays during a game to keep our winning ways,” he said.
Freehold Township received the No. 6 seed for the SCT and drew No. 11-seed Toms River High School North in the first-round game May 7. The Patriots continued their late-season momentum by upending the Mariners in overtime, 9-8, on Colicchia’s goal in the first overtime period.
Novella led the Patriots with three goals and an assist, while Colicchia and Nastarowicz each had two goals and an assist.
Patten made 10 saves in the win.
Freehold Township was scheduled to play its quarterfinals game May 10 against the winner of No. 3-seed Southern Regional High School vs. No. 14-seed Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School. If RBC pulled an upset, the game would be played in Freehold Township.
The SCT semifinals are May 12 at Long Branch High School. The finals are back at Long Branch at 6 p.m. May 16.
Defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School was given the No. 1 seed by the coaches.
Despite the loss at Freehold Township, Howell has been one of the Shore’s best teams throughout the season. The Rebels have played a tough non-division schedule, which should help the club in the postseason.
Much like Freehold Township, Howell was hard hit by graduation, losing 15 seniors. It’s a good sign for a program when a team can come right back the next year and compete for first place. It shows that the program has arrived as a winner.
What the Rebels have going for them in 2016 is the return of three midfield starters: captain Nic Rossi, Nico Lorenzo and Jason Kenny.
Junior Drew Bujiwuec leads the team in scoring and another junior, Rick Damelio, leads the team in goals.
Jack Noone, who has a knack for takeaways, has led the defense.
Sophomore Nicholas Roberto gets better with each game and has a .600 save percentage in goal.
The Rebels were seeded No. 10 in the SCT and played at No. 7-seed Wall High School in their first-round game May 7. The Crimson Knights bested the Rebels, 13-6.
Rossi led Howell (8-6) with two goals and two assists.
Girls Shore Conference Tournament
The girls lacrosse SCT began May 9. Freehold Township and Manalapan High School made the 16-team field.
The Patriots were seeded 11th and traveled to No. 6-seed Ocean Township High School, while Manalapan, the 14th seed, had a date the same day with No. 3-seed RBC.
The quarterfinals are May 11 on the higher-seeded team’s home field. The semifinals are May 13 at Ocean Township High School, and the finals are May 16 at Monmouth University in West Long Branch.
Defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven is the No. 1 seed.