The Somerville High School boys lacrosse team scored a statement victory Monday in the rain, turning a stellar defensive effort from Pat Grega and John Murphy into a 6-5 victory over Ridge, the defending NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
The win vaulted Somerville to the top spot in the Courier News Top 5 this week.
The Red Devils were riding a five-game winning streak dating back to last season and had won 14 of their last 15 games spanning the last two years.
“I think the win was one thing,” Somerville head coach Gilmon Eaton said. “But it’s important for us to see where we stand and right now I think the guys feel pretty good. It’s only one game, but it gives us some confidence, especially considering the way Ridge has been playing. They’re a real quality team and we were really excited to play them.”
The two teams will need to meet in the postseason for a rematch, but Eaton knows that his team won’t let a victory like this linger for too long.
“It’s celebration time for us now,” he said following the win on Monday. “They work really hard and they executed the game plan against Ridge. But going into our next bunch of practices, they’re going to work harder than ever, knowing that now we have the target on our backs. They can’t let their guard down at all, especially now.”
Eaton noted that Grega, who will play collegiately at the University of Maryland next season, did an outstanding job covering Ridge star J.T. Palladino one-on-one, limiting the Red Devils’ top offensive weapon to just two goals and an assist Monday.
“We came into the game wanting to play J.T. one-on-one, and Pat was on him most of the time. A few times, we had some others on him, but we kept J.T. at bay and that was the real concentration for us. He scored twice, but we beat him up a little bit,” Eaton said. “We played our fundamental defense, not getting out of position and sliding when we needed to slide, but Ridge got a lot of shots off.”
Murphy, a senior that played about half of the games in 2013 for Somerville, stepped up and shut the door against Ridge, coming up with 15 of his 22 saves in the second half, when the rain really picked up. Eaton said that the rain wasn’t as bad as it could have been, occasionally causing players to lose their footing, but that ending up being an equalizer for the two high-powered offenses.
Somerville (4-0) had been averaging better than 14 goals per game this season, and Ridge had scored an average of 10 per contest in its first four victories.
“We play one game at a time and these kids just love to play the game,” Eaton said. “They like to challenge themselves and going up against a quality program like Ridge and getting a win is big. The kids are excited and who knows, we might end up seeing them again in the Somerset County Tournament, like last year.”
Ridge won last season’s two meetings by an 18-6 combined score, including an 8-4 decision in the SCT finals.