Emotion, intensity leads Mountain Lakes to MCT final

By Mark Kitchin


The Mountain Lakes players know how important the Morris County Tournament is, but it never hurts to get a reminder. If their dubious first-half performance in Saturday’s semifinals posed questions as to the Lakers heart and hustle, the second half answered them.

Zach Lesko fired a hat trick and Christian Cuccinello, Zander Kotsen, Ryan Frawley and Chris Sammarro scored two goals apiece to lift Mountain Lakes  to a 12-7 victory over West Morris in the semifinals of the Morris County Tournament on Saturday at Madison High School.

Mountain Lakes advances to play its adversary Delbarton in Tuesday’s MCT final and FDU-Florham in a 7:30 start.

Jeremy Angle had a hat trick for sixth-seeded West Morris. It was the Wolfpack’s return to the semifinal game after an 11-year drought. They were competitive for more than three quarters. West Morris led 4-3 at the half and were tied with Mountain Lakes at 6-6 early in the fourth quarter before the Lakers pulled away.

2 bll mct semi

Christian Cuccinello had been one of the Mountain Lakes most consistent offensive threats. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

It was at halftime when the Lakers players were challenged. They needed to come out with the hustle and energy that surpassed what the upset-minded Wolfpack was showing.

“They were out hustling us on every part of the field and we had to step it up,” Mountain Lakes defender Jack Spagnola said. “They were beating us all around the field. I told them this could be it. As seniors this is our last chance to go out and win this county. It’s one of the best counties in New Jersey. It’s all we’ve worked for. We earned that game.”

Mountain Lakes led 2-1 after the first quarter, but sixth-seeded West Morris, which upset third-seeded Chatham in the quarterfinal round, was not awed by its opponent. The Wolfpack scored three of the four second-quarter goals. Back-to-back scores by Angle and Cooper Sloan gave West Morris a 4-3 edge at the half.

12 bll mct semi

West Morris’ ball-hawking ways forced Mountain Lakes to be more assertive in the second half of Saturday’s MCT contest. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We knew they were a hustle team coming into it,” Lesko said. “We would have to fight for it. They kind of outran us on a few ground balls that we thought we should have had in the middle of the field. That would have given us a few more possessions. We just tried to keep playing our game be patient on offense, stay strong on defense and we knew if we played well we would come out on top.”

It wasn’t a question of technical matters, for the Lakers it was all about controlled emotion and intensity.

“We weren’t doing some small things right,” Spagnola said. “Actually it was more the effort and the focus. We weren’t focused. We were letting things go by. Defensively, we weren’t covering fast enough. We were a little sloppy. They were beating us to the ground balls. They were making more plays than we were.”

Back-to-back scores by Sammarro and Cuccinello gave the Lakers a 5-4 edge early in the third quarter. Then the teams exchanged goals going into the fourth quarter. When Angle connected for his third goal of the game off a pass from Kyle Skurchak with 10:52 remaining to tie the contest at 6-all. It looked like it would be a battle the rest of the way. That was when the Lakers got busy.

Je24 bll mct semi

Jeremy Angle (8) and Cooper Sloan (9) celebrate an early West Morris goal. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Consecutive goals by Lesko, Frawley, Cuccinello and Kotsen, built the Lakers a 10-6 edge with 5:30 left.

Lesko started it off with a feed from Kotsen. His righty shot in the top left corner made it a 7-6 game with 9:49 left. It gave the Lakers the lead for good.

“It was something we had been working on in practice,” Lesko said. “Cucch had a dodge from behind and got the ball moving. Bang, bang, one more (pass) and I just got there with the shot and finished it.”

Frawley’s came next. The Lakers sophomore has emerged as a very capable scorer. He connected for his second goal of the game off a Cuccinello feed at 8:02.

“We knew Frawley was a stud coming into the season,” Lesko said. “He really got his shot once Davis Thompson got his concussion. He just stepped up big time. He’s turning into a man out there. He’s playing with the big guys. He’s playing like a senior and I’m really happy for him.”

He is one of many sophomores emerging in importance for the Lakers. Frawley and John Becker, who took many of the second half face-offs, made an impact on Saturday. The Lakers are usually a very deep team and don’t always have players that young regularly make a difference.

“It’s an honor to get on the field as a sophomore because of the program we have,” Spagnola said. “My sophomore year I would just sit on the sidelines and Cuccinello or maybe Sammarro got to see the field. They are great players. Frawley, Chet Morgis my little brother (Jake) has seen some time. It’s awesome. It gets everybody involved. It’s great for our team. Everybody has to step up and make plays.”

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Mountain Lakes long stick Robert Gossett keeps tabs on a West Morris midfielder. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Cuccinello made it a 3-goal game when he curled toward the top of the box and scored with 7:32 left. Over the last two years, the three-sport athlete has been his team’s most consistent offensive threat.

“It’s an honor to play with him because he scores for himself,” Lesko said. “He opens it up for the rest of the team. It’s just so fun to be out there with him. He gets double teams, triple teams and it just makes it easy for the rest of the offense.”

Kotsen followed off a feed from Lesko on a man-up goal with 5:30 left to make it 10-6. The teams would exchange scores after that but the Wolfpack stood little chance of rallying.

13 bll mct semiZander Kotsen (11) scored a pair of goals to help Mountain Lakes advance in MCT semifinal action. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The Lakers were back in the MCT final. Since both Mountain Lakes and Delbarton have won 12 titles each in county competition, this championship game has a little extra on the line.

“We’ve been battling them ever since we were little,” Spagnola said. “It’s going to be awesome.”


About mcvbb

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

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