Deliberate Chatham dominates Madison

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

CHATHAM – Passes zipped back and forth between Chatham players at a brisk pace, probing the Madison defense at every turn. Maybe the fourth or fifth pass didn’t bring the desired result but mixed with a dodge or fake sometimes the eighth or ninth pass did.

The ability to maintain possession and put pressure on an opposing foes’ defense doesn’t always yield a goal early in the game but often by the fourth quarter it can make all the difference.

Chatham managed to get its goals early but it’s easy to see how future games may turn out for the Cougars. On Thursday, Chatham jumped out to a 6-2 halftime lead and maintained a substantial advantage the rest of the way for a 10-5 victory over neighboring rival Madison in a game at Cougar Field.

Jack Eisenreich scored four times and six of his teammates also connected for Chatham (2-1). Chad Smith and Colin McLinden each scored a goal and an assist for Madison which dropped to 0-3.

Chatham’s Cory Heidaran escapes from and Madison defender during Thursday’s contest.

This year’s Chatham team has good depth and terrific balance. The Cougars are also slowly gaining the confidence that those two qualities can instill on a team. They burst out to a 3-1 first-quarter lead and built it to 6-2 at halftime by maintaining possession, working deliberately on the offensive end and making good decisions.

“We want to have anyone with the ball be able to go to the goal and score,’’ Eisenreich said. “In our last game we had eight different guys score with the ball for us which is tremendous. We’re looking for the pass, looking for shots and it’s kind of being spread around nicely.’’

It also raises the confidence level of the Cougars’ defense. They are under less pressure to shut opponents down when their teammates can build up a lead.

“It’s the best.’’ Chatham defenseman John Radigan said. “When we control tempo it gets their offense cold sometimes. When they are not playing for a long time, then they really get out of it while we are energized and ready to go.’’

Madison goalkeeper Brett Anton’s crushing check was one of the Dodgers’ few first half highlights.

The Cougars are doing a good job of pushing each other to get better. Their depth, which shows most in the midfield and defense, limits the problems injuries bring. Open competition for jobs brings out the best in all of them.

“It’s forcing people to play better, especially in practice,’’ Eisenreich said. “We have guys who are picking it up different days so it is really getting us going.’’

They are also more confident in the system that Tony Calandra, in his second-year as Chatham’s coach, has installed. It especially shows on offense in the deliberate way they work the ball so early in the season.

“I think the biggest thing is that everyone is buying into it this year,’’ Radigan said. “We’re all playing for each other and the competition level has been high. Everyone has to buy into it in order to play well. The system is working.’’

Although maintaining possession kept the ball out of the sticks of the Madison attack, the Chatham defense did its part, too. Elusive Madison midfielder Colin McLinden is an explosive player for the Dodgers and was coming off a sensational effort against Mendham. Radigan did his part to keep him in control.

“He’s a great player,’’ Radigan said. “I’ve known him for a couple of years now. He is really fast but with my teammates around me anything is possible now. When they shut the adjacents down, I can definitely go one-on-one against him and I had help if I was to get beat. Our defense was just too good today.’’

Madison long stick Eddie Carr pushed the ball upfield as Chatham players chase him.

A three-goal burst by Paul Hackett, Eisenreich and Kyle Howard Johnson made it a 6-2 game at the half. Chatham sealed the game in the third quarter with four consecutive goals. Eisenreich and Matt Proto connected within 30 seconds of each other to make it 8-2 at the nine-minute mark. Corey Heideran knocked in a Proto feed at 8:21 and Eisenreich circled the crease before squeezing in a low righty shot with 3:23 left in the quarter to make it a 10-2 game.

With a lengthy lead, the Dodgers capitalized on a few Cougars mistakes in the fourth quarter but didn’t connect enough to threaten the victory.

The win over Madison was another confidence builder for the Cougars. A narrow 15-14 loss to highly-ranked Delbarton earlier in the week may have been a blessing in disguise for Chatham. The Cougars were in the game throughout and they discovered how close they are in elevating themselves from a good team to a special one.

“I think we learned that we are a better team than we thought we were,’’ Radigan said. “Delbarton was a great team but we learned that we can play with anyone and the sky is the limit.’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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