Mountain Lakes boys savor sectional title

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

MOUNTAIN LAKES — At Mountain Lakes, which has built a lacrosse tradition over the last 25 years for winning numerous overall state titles and Morris County Tournament titles, capturing a sectional title might not seem like that big a deal. However, when the Lakers won the first sectional title offered by the state, it was who they defeated that was just as important as actually beating them.

“It’s a great feeling, very hard earned,’’ Mountain Lakes’ attackman Christian Cuccinello said. “Madison came out ready to beat us. They played hard for 48 minutes.’’

Cuccinello, Zach Lesko and Spencer Herman each scored two goals apiece to lift Mountain Lakes to an 8-6 victory and capture the North Group I sectional state title on Sunday.

Zander Kotsen and Evan Bernstein also added goals and the Lakers also had strong performances from Sam Walsh at faceoff and goalkeeper Jared Bernstein who finished with seven saves. The Lakers (15-5) advance to play Group I South champion Rumson on Wednesday at Livingston High School.

Christian Scarpello fired a hat trick and Vince Sapio added a pair of goals for the Dodgers (14-7).

141 bl st mlmadMountain Lakes’ Zander Kotsen gets a lift from Christian Cuccinello after a first-half goal. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

When the Lakers advanced on Sunday, there were no riotous, dog pile type celebrations that the team has been known for orchestrating after big wins. They were very respectful after vanquishing their Morris County rivals.

“It feels great to win this game,’’ Cuccinello said. “This is a Madison team that came out flying on all cylinders and it’s great to win it because of the work that we all put in.’’

The Dodgers matched the Lakers for more than a half. Christian Scarpello was a tough on the offensive end. On defense, Madison goalkeeper Jack Ranney, who stopped 14 shots, forced Mountain Lakes to earn every goal it scored.

“We tried changing levels,’’ Cuccinello said. “We tried going high but he was saving all of them. He was seeing the ball well today. We knew that if we kept firing them, they would fall like that.’’

It took a timely penalty and some quick sticks to help the Lakers gain momentum and take the lead. The contest was tied 5-all in the final minute of the third quarter when the Dodgers were whistled for a 30-second penalty for having too many men on the field. It was just enough time for Zach Lesko to convert a feed with 15 seconds left to take a 6-5 edge.

112 bl st mlmadMountain Lakes’ Christian Cuccinello sure knows how to draw a crowd. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The Lakers weren’t finished. Walsh won the face-off and two passes later Herman connected on a buzzer beating goal to lift Mountain Lakes going into the fourth quarter.

“I wasn’t thinking at all,’’ Herman said of the goal. “I saw Cucch pick up the ball. I expected him to shoot it but I got it.’’

Herman knew he had to place the ball in a good spot against Ranney. His reflexes were sharp and his aim was accurate.

“Transition is huge first of all, every time you get a ball it’s an opportunity to score,’’ Herman said. “That’s the name of the game.’’

The Lakers were able to extend it to a 3-goal lead when Cuccinello converted a Chris Sammarro pass near the crease to make it 8-5 with 9:58 left in the contest.

“It was a loose ball situation,’’ Cuccinello said. “Chris picked up the ground ball. My man was forced to slide and Sammarro is a great shooter on the wing. They were aware of that. I snuck behind him. I got in on the crease and he got me the ball. I gave the goalie a head fake. He got a stick on it actually. Luckily it trickled in. We will take it any way we can get it.’’

85 bl st mlmadMadison’s Christian Scarpello was a handful for Scott Flynn and the Mountain Lakes defense. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Madison didn’t give up and nearly created a scoring opportunity on its own by pressuring a cage and drawing a 30-second penalty on Mountain Lakes’ goalie Jared Bernstein. The Lakers netminder, who had a fine game overall with seven saves including several tough ones, was trying to clear out a dangerous situation on the crease a bit too forcefully and ended up being whistled for pushing. Backup goalie Kevin Beimfor had to go in the net while, Bernstein served his penalty.

“He’s always keeping everyone in check,’’ Herman said of Bernstein. “He’s our guy. That was his first penalty of the season. He gets so fired up. Maybe that wasn’t the best decision.’’

The Lakers defense rose to the occasion. With the exception of a Christian Scarpello shot that missed the mark, Madison didn’t get another attempt and turned the ball over before the penalty expired. Beimfor didn’t have to make a save and the Lakers were able to retain possession and keep the clock running.

74 bl st mlmadThe Lakers celebrate a first-half goal by defenseman Evan Bernstein. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Madison eventually got a goal from Sapio at the four-minute mark but the two-goal margin stood the rest of the way. Mountain Lakes quietly and happily took its sectional title with an eye for more success to come.

“It’s the first sectional title ever in New Jersey,’’ Herman said. “It definitely makes it more special that the first year it happens we come out and take it.

“Our seniors couldn’t be a better group of seniors. Everyone brings their attitude and their hustle. It’s all a credit to them.’’

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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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