Lightning delay a blessing for Delbarton

By Mark Kitchin


MADISON — There is no such thing as a do over in high schools sports. However, every once in awhile nature intervenes and gives a sports team a chance to regroup.

Delbarton took full advantage of such an opportunity on Saturday and secured and Morris County Tournament title bid with its 10-2 victory over Kinnelon in semifinal round.

The Green Wave moves on to face Chatham, which will make its first MCT title game appearance, on Tuesday when the teams meet on the turf at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Grant VanFossen had two goals and two assists and Thomas Fowler and Jordan Dowiak had two goals apiece for the top-seeded Green Wave (14-0). Ryan O’Keefe and Brian Gnad scored early goals for the fifth-seeded Colts (9-6).

213 bl mctsemiDelbarton’s Dillon Confalone makes a move from behind the cage during first-half action. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Delbarton was leading 4-2 when play was halted with 1:14 left in the second quarter. The delay, which was called at 3:05 p.m., lasted for and hour and 15 minutes as lightning flashed and the skies poured with rain. When play resumed under sunny skies, the Green Wave looked more refreshed and confident. Fowler and VanFossen scored goals within a six-second span in the final 15 seconds before halftime to build Delbarton a four-goal lead and seize momentum for good.

“It was the first lightning delay we had in quite awhile actually,’’ Delbarton coach Chuck Ruebling said. “It was definitely good for us. We made some adjustments and it was a good opportunity for us to settle down. We weren’t particularly pleased in how we were playing in the first half. I think it showed a little bit when we came back out.’’

Kinnelon seized momentum early with an O’Keefe goal. Even though the Green Wave eventually took the lead they were not playing like and unbeaten and top-seeded team that had been dominating most opponents.

“We were really sloppy in the first half,’’ Delbarton midfielder Austin Williams said. “We definitely cleaned things up in that second half.’’

323 bl mctsemiBrendan Huston and the Delbarton defense shut out Kinnelon during the second half on Saturday. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

After the referees signaled for the teams to leave the field, they went to classrooms that Madison High School provided to wait out the delay. Although they rested, Delbarton was not idle during the break.

“We were in the classroom in the school, just talking over some strategies – some x’s and o’s,’’ Attackman Thomas Fowler said. “We were mainly just staying relaxed and staying focused.’’

The attackmen talked about how to better engage Kinnelon’s close defense in order to open up space for better scoring chances. It was also an opportunity to start the game with a fresher attitude.

“We tried to have a short memory and forget some of the mishaps of the first half,’’ Fowler said. “We did draw up some different looks — a slightly different game plan. It was mostly like we were ready to go — refocused. That break was good for us.’’

It also gave the Green Wave a chance to adjust the tempo of the game, too.

267 bl mctsemiAustin Williams gives Delbarton a huge advantage on the draw. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We were trying to play fast in the first part of the game,’’ Ruebling said. “We needed to slow down a little bit. We started playing a little bit slower.

“I think the guys just needed to settle down. We tried to run a little bit of a freelance offense. I think we needed to give them something more structured.’’

Ruebling credited Kinnelon for having an excellent game plan and getting off to a strong start. A little bit of strategy upon Delbarton’s return, with the help of Williams gave the Colts a big lift going into the halftime, which was now switched a two-minute break because of the lengthy delay.

When play resumed Kinnelon had the ball but lost it on a turnover. Delbarton immediately called timeout with 27 seconds left on the clock to set up a play. The result was a Fowler goal with 15 seconds left in the half.

“I got some nice space,’’ Fowler said. “Kevin Lewis gave me a perfect pass. I was luckily able to put it in the top corner.’’

294 bl mctsemiDelbarton defenseman Will Reynolds keeps a stick on Kinnelon attackman Brian Gnad. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The score made it a 3-goal game at 5-2 with 15 seconds left in the first half. Now that Delbarton seized momentum it wasn’t going to let it slip away and with a face-off specialist like Williams they were able to build on it.

“Austin is phenomenal,’’ Fowler said. “You don’t realize how nice it is to get the ball back to you every time. He is almost always winning it. We are able to get momentum when we need it.’’

It only took six seconds for Willams to win the draw himself, sprint down the field and find VanFossen for a quick goal and a 6-2 lead.

“It was awesome,’’ Williams said. “Facing off is a great momentum shifter. Grant scored it. Everyone went crazy and the sideline gets pumped up.’’

It was a different game after that. The short halftime kept momentum on Delbarton’s side. On Williams’ part, he was able to get in rhythm with the officials who were holding the draws.

“In the second half they started holding the count a lot longer,’’ Williams said. “They varied up the cadence a lot more (in the first half). I made more of an effort not to hold down there and not go early.’’

The four-goal lead also gave Delbarton a sense of comfort. The Green Wave players were eliminated in the semifinal round by Mountain Lakes last year. The unbeaten record and their MCT reputations were at stake. The Green Wave had a lot more to lose, but going into the second half with a four-goal advantage and a surge of momentum eased their concerns. Any lingering doubts from the first half just melted away.

The offense became more efficient and scored the next four goals. The defense was at its dominating best and did not allow the Colts, who competed in last year’s title game, another score. It became obvious the Green Wave would return for another in a long history of MCT finals.

“Everything kind of rose up for us,’’ Williams said.


About mcvbb

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

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