By Wayne Witkowski
Jackson Memorial High School’s boys’ lacrosse team looks to quickly get over a hard-fought, 7-6 loss to Saint John Vianney High School in the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) May 6 as it prepares for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association South Jersey, Group III tournament.
The Jaguars come away with a degree of satisfaction, as they cut a 5-2 deficit at halftime to one goal on three occasions in the second half but never got beyond that.
“We scrimmaged them in March and knew we could compete with them, and we gave them a tough game,” coach Joe Pienkowski said after the Jaguars slipped to 9-5.
They’ll take into the state tournament some accomplishments that they have not achieved in recent years: their first Shore Conference Tournament appearance in three years and the most wins since that 9-9 team in 2014.
The 2013 team won 14 games and reached the SCT semifinals.
The Jaguars also finished tied with Toms River High School East for second place in the Shore Conference A South Division at 3-3, with Brick Memorial High School behind perennial power Southern Regional High School.
“This is a great following from last year,” said Dakota Neron, who is one of three players to score two goals against St. John Vianney along with freshman Aaron Hutchinson and John Chitren. “We have a lot of team bonding.”
Jackson Memorial heads into the tournament without goalkeeper Dylan Furnbach, who suffered a broken collarbone two games prior during a 9-5 victory over Donovan Catholic High School — the fifth straight victory before the streak was snapped the next game by Brick Memorial leading up to the St. John Vianney game.
Yeal Bonilla, a junior, has performed well taking over for Furnbach, Pienkowski said.
“It’s definitely an adjustment; we’ve been used to playing with Dylan, who has started in goal for the past three seasons,” Pienkowski said. “I thought he’s been playing very well. The players are working hard. [Bonilla] has the work ethic and attitude. He’s taken that leadership role.”
“He has done an outstanding job and stood up to expectations,” Neron said of Bonilla. “It will be OK as long as we play together and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Pienkowski said Jackson Memorial is ranked No. 7 in the section based on power points as it heads to the May 17 cutoff for the state tournament.
Neron also has had to make an adjustment, as he and John Chitren were moved from midfield to attack. Neron has 26 goals and 13 assists and Chittren has 23 goals and 13 assists. Hutchinson, a freshman,has scored 25 goals and Santo Porazzo has 23 goals. Junior defender Sean Duggan has a dozen assists.
“This season is definitely a tribute to the seniors. We rely on them to lead by example,” Pienkowski said. “Three years ago when I got he job, I knew this would be special. The seniors are true leaders to our group, and the other players are playing for them. This year, for the first time, we’re well balanced. The defense has been big the last few years, and this year’s group has stepped up its scoring.”
Mitch Mills and Jack Bryson bolster the defense. Matt Perillo and Rob Stiuso play in the midfield with Hutchinson. Porazzo starts on the attack with Neron and Chitrin. They’ve formed a solid nucleus, and Pienkowski feels they’ll be ready for the state tournament.
“We preach getting better every day; we have to continue that with fundamentals and working hard,” Pienkowski said.