Second-half surge fuels Mendham state triumph

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

MENDHAM – Chandler Avallone isn’t a magician but to be able to score a goal without taking a shot on the cage is a pretty neat trick for any lacrosse player.

Avallone, a sophomore attackman, had three goals and five assists and Mendham scored 11 second-half goals to defeat Morristown 14-4 in North Group III state tournament action on Saturday.

Jeff Morris had three goals and two assists and Pete McNerney also had a hat trick for Mendham (9-9), seeded fifth in the section.

Chris Drake scored twice, Mike Lopez had a goal and an assist and Dan Delargy also connected for the 12th-seeded Colonials (5-11). Mendham advances to play Millburn in the quarterfinal round. The Millers defeated Wayne Hills 17-1 on Saturday.

Senior face-off middie Scott Smullen won 12 of 18 faceoffs and also snagged eight ground balls to help Mendham earn and maintain possessions.

90 blst mendmorrMendham’s Chandler Avallone (38) and Pete McNerney (9) congratulate themselves on a first-quarter goal. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Avallone excels at feeding his cutting teammates from behind the cage. His tricky score came during a crucial 4-goal run early in the third quarter which turned a tight 3-3 contest into a more comfortable 7-3 Mendham advantage.

“I was trying to find Ross Coapman on the crease,’’ Avallone said. “I fed it to him and the ball bounced off the defenders stick and went in so it’s tough (for them) but that’s the way the game is and I’ll take it.’’

Despite literally hundreds of passes over the years, it was the first time Avallone has scored such a crazy goal.

“That’s never happened to me before,’’ Avallone said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen it.’’

Threading passes from the “X” spot on the field is a difficult skill. Great vision and good judgment is needed to be able to consistently give teammates the ball in the right spot with enough time for them to put a quality shot on net.

“The thing I have to work on the most is keeping my eyes off (the target),’’ Avallone said. “A few times I would pass it and defenders would knock it down. Feeding from X is something I definitely have to try hard to do. It’s a skill that I treasure a lot.’’

The goal was a weird moment in a game that definitely had its quirks. This past Thursday the teams played in a regular season game with Mendham winning by a 9-4 score.

72 blst mendmorrMendham’s Tim Lewis gets off a shot on goal during Saturday’s state tournament game. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“It’s always tough to play a team twice,’’ Smullen said. “At halftime we had to come out ready to go and that’s what we did. I think when we put them away on Thursday, we knew we would be able to do it again today.’’

The Minutemen didn’t leave anything out of their game plan on Thursday that they used on Saturday. It was just a matter of keeping calm, getting possessions and making shots.

“We had a game plan from the beginning and we executed our offensive plays,’’ Smullen said. “I think the second half was more about keeping composure. We knew we could outplay them. We needed to keep our focus going and play our game.’’

Mendham built a 3-1 lead after the first quarter but goals by Morristown’s Drake and Delargy knotted it at 3-all going into halftime. It was a run of four Mendham goals in the opening five minutes of the third quarter that set the tone for the rest of the contest. Tim Lewis started it by scoring on a feed from Will Robinson 47 seconds into the quarter to break the deadlock.

“Tim Lewis is a great player,’’ Avallone said. “He is going to Division I Furman (in the fall). He works hard in practice and works hard in the games. He’s deserving as one of the best players on the team.’’

30 blst mendmorrMorristown defensemen converge on Mendham’s Will Robinson during first half action. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Avallone’s freakish goal, his first of three on the day, made it 5-3 at 9:54. Then Avallone assisted on back-to-back goals 18 seconds apart. First, he connected with McNerney for a score at 7:55 to make it a 3-goal game.

“He’s the steadfast leader of our offense,’’ Smullen said of McNerney. “Everyone looks to him. He calms us down. It’s really important that he’s on the field and playing well. He’s a real lead by example kind of guy.’’

Then seconds later Morris converted an Avallone feed to make it 7-3. All of these scores were helped by Smullen’s victories on the draw that gave the Minutemen ample possessions and kept their momentum going.

“Our wing play today was fantastic,’’ Smullen said. “They were getting on us a little bit in the first half. We made some adjustments. Jeff Seals, our face-off coach, is great and we adjusted on the wings and after that it was pretty much – make it, take it.

“Kieran Meek and Brad Theiss are the wing guys. Ross Coapman also got there a couple of times on the wings. On the draw I just tried to put it back and play to the wing as best I could. We just had to calm down. The nerves were kind of going in the first half, too.’’

125 blst mendmorrMorristown’s Chris Drake got the last laugh since he just saw his shot hit the back of the net. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Seals was Mendham’s head coach last year, but left the varsity role for business reasons. He stayed on as assistant when former Morris Knolls coach Mark Grilo took over to ensure a smooth transition.

Lopez’s goal with 2:49 left got the Colonials back in the game but halted the Minutemen momentum briefly. It ended up being the last Morristown goal of the game and its season.

Mendham scored four goals in the first two minutes of fourth quarter including defenseman Seamus McDonald’s first varsity goal to turn the close game into a rout.

“It was the first goal – I think in his life,’’ Avallone said of McDonald’s hard, low rolling score. “I was in front of the goal. I saw him shoot and I jumped so it wouldn’t hit me.’’

McDonald is more valued on the defensive end. The Mendham defense has solidified a lot in the last month. Devin Walsh, a newcomer from Texas, has stepped into the captain’s role. Kieran Meek, McDonald and Sean Edelheim have all fulfilled their duties and have shown improvement as a unit.

Mendham seems to be putting everything together at just the right time. Last week, the Minutemen gave Mountain Lakes a scare by nearly upsetting the defending Morris County Tournament champions. They had a two-goal lead with four minutes remaining before the Lakers rallied on their home turf. Despite the loss, the contest gave the Mendham players some confidence and showed them that they can compete with the best team in the state.

“That’s one we definitely thought we should have come away with,’’ Smullen said. “We felt burned after that one so we just let the fire build up. We were going to take it to whoever we got next.’’

The next state game for Mendham is on the road against Millburn in quarterfinal round play. The Minutemen believe they are continuing to play their best lacrosse and they are capable of making some noise in this year’s tournament.

82 blst mendmorrMendham’s Scott Smullen won 12 of 18 draws and avoids a Morristown double-team here. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Morris County state tournament results

West Morris 12, Roxbury 3

Jeremy Angle had five goals and two assists and Matt Carfaro added four goals in the Group III contest. Ryan Muscatella added five assists for the Wolfpack (10-9). West Morris led 5-2 at halftime before pulling away. The Wolfpack plays Fair Lawn in the quarterfinal round. The Gaels dropped to 7-9.

Fair Lawn 15, Randolph 11

Kurt Naslonski had four goals and three assists and Matt Cohn had a hat trick for the Rams. T. J. Lindquist added two goals for Randolph which finishes at 6-13.

Vernon 12, Montville 9

The game was tied 6-6 at the half but the Vikings took control with a 5-0 third-quarter run. Vernon likely plays Ridgewood next.

Kinnelon 14, Kittatinny 1

Brian Gnad had three goals and two assists and Robert Lewis had two goals and two assists to spark the rout. The Colts led 9-1 at the half. Ryan O’Keefe added two goals and two assists for Kinnelon (10-7).

Regular season

Delbarton 6, Chaminade (NY) 5

The Green Wave rallied with three fourth-quarter goals to pass their Long Island rivals. Kevin Lewis had two goals and one assist and Matt Killian added two goals for unbeaten Delbarton (16-0).

GIRLS LACROSSE

Regular season

West Essex 16, Kinnelon 11

Heidi Annaheim had five goals and three assists and her sister Virginia Annaheim had three goals and two assists for the Colts.

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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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