Chatham captures Group II title

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

BASKING RIDGE — Chatham’s unfinished business is finished.

Sam Carson and Kyle Howard Johnson scored two goals apiece to lift Chatham to an 8-6 triumph over Somerville to capture the Group II state title, the first in the history of the Cougars program.

David Gill, Cory Heideran, Paul Hackett and Thomas Guida each added a goal and goalkeeper Corey Fritts stopped five shots for Chatham. The Cougars will compete in the Tournament of Champions which will be determined by seed on Thursday.

Logan LeBlond scored twice and Matt Raposo had a goal and two assists for Somerville, which led 5-3 at the half. Chatham rallied with six consecutive goals which ranged from the final seconds of the second quarter to Carson’s goal with 5:35 in fourth quarter.

(Story developing)

Plenty of happy Cougars celebrate Chatham’s first Group II lacrosse title after defeating Somerville.

In last year’s Group II final Chatham lost toSummit in a five-overtime extravaganza that left the Cougars bitter and disappointed. This year’s experience made all the hard work and determination worthwhile.

“It’s the best feeling,’’Chatham goalie Corey Fritts said. “After last year’s five overtime loss, it was the worst feeling I’ve ever had — to rebound like this is just awesome.’’

Defenseman Thomas Stephan emphatically agreed.

“I know as newspaper writers (or bloggers) you can’t add volume to your stories, but this was an unbelievable experience,’’ Stephan said. “I mean UNBELIEVABLE.’’

 Chatham coach Tony Calandra questioned whether last year’s experience helped this year’s team because of the poor first half. He believed that a tough scheduled filled with tight games may have made more of a difference.

“We played so many tough games throughout the year that a tie game down the stretch — a one-goal game – they were comfortable in it,’’ Calandra said. “We told them that we were here last year and we played as good as we could possibly play and came up a little short but today I think they had the will to go get it.’’

But in the first half Chatham struggled. The offense wasn’t clicking, the defense was making mistakes and even Fritts was starting to question his confidence a bit. It seemed to turn around late in the second quarter when Sam Carson took advantage of a turnover off a disrupted Somerville clear and scored a goal with 31 seconds left.

 “Our offense really wasn’t getting much,’’Carson said. “We knew we needed a big play on a ride and that’s exactly what we got. It was really big momentum shift.’’

Carson’s goal made the score 5-3 going into halftime. As they walked to the corner of the field, some of the Chatham seniors questioned their offensive-minded teammates about their fears. Overall, the Cougars just needed to relax.

Chatham’s Kyle Howard Johnson (23) scored twice to help the Cougars to a state title.

“We were already doing what we wanted but we talked about settling down because I think everyone was a bit nervous,’’Carson said. “We just tried to stay focus and do what we’ve been doing all season.’’

Everything seemed to get together in the third quarter. Fritts stopped a shot bySomerville’s Matt Raposo and got a surge of confidence. Matt Babakian cleared the ball and seconds later Howard Johnson put the ball in the net with a righty shot to the top left corner with 9:35 left to make it 5-4.

Tripp Connor won the draw and seconds later Paul Hackett ripped a hard righty shot to tie the game at 5-5 with 8:11 left. David Gill connected at 5:08 to give Chatham the lead for good. The Cougars had a 6-5 edge going into the fourth quarter and the offense which sputtered in the first half was now a smooth running machine.

 “It was just moving the ball around,’’Carson said. “The offense in the first half was stagnant. Once we got the team flow and we were able to move the ball around we could score some goals.’’

Fourth-quarter goals by Thomas Guida and Carson made it a 3-goal advantage with a little over five minutes left. Carson’s score off a Gill feed made it 8-5 and gave the Cougars the necessary cushion they needed.

“Davie Gill made a really good play and beat a couple of guys as usual,’’Carson said. “I just saw a couple of people, ran around a screen, let it fly and saw it go into the back of the net.’’

Raposo scored an unassisted goal with 1:19 left in the game to give Somerville some momentum. The Pioneers won the faceoff. When a Chatham player was whistled for holding with 34 seconds left, Somerville knew it had a man advantage and a chance to draw closer. Stephan wouldn’t let it happen. The senior defenseman cemented the triumph by picking off a Pioneers pass with 17 seconds left

Chatham’s Matt Proto (27) gathers another precious ground ball during the first half of state tournament action.

“I wasn’t necessarily trying to beat him in but I knew a guy was on my back side and I gave him a bit of a look away and then I saw him pass it and I tried to do what I could with it and luckily I made the play,’’ Thomas said. “(After I caught it) the first thing I did was look at the clock and people were yelling. People were telling me to chuck it but Fritts had the presence of mind to call for it and settle the ball down and they called a time out.’’

Chatham was able to run out the clock. They celebrated but they also looked forward to some new goals they can still achieve.

“We’ve definitely had a bumpy season,’’ Carson said. “It’s an honor. This is a great win. The bumps definitely helped. It taught us how to finish our games. We topped it off and now we have to focus on the T of C.’’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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