BERNARDS — As the seconds dwindled down and the fate of the game hung in the balance, Carter Gilpin came up with the play of the day Monday afternoon.
The senior defenseman used his long pole to knock the ball from the stick of Rutgers Prep’s top-scorer Tom Smith with 10 seconds left, preserving a 6-5 victory for the Bernards High School boys lacrosse team in the first round of the Somerset County Tournament.
The seventh-seeded Mountaineers earned themselves a date with second-seeded Pingry in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Gilpin’s heroics came just one minute after Rutgers Prep (7-7) had cut the lead in half at 6-5, on Jack Vajda’s second goal of the game. The 10th-seeded Argonauts won the ensuing face-off and called timeout, setting up a play for the tying goal. But each team turned the ball over in the moments after the timeout, giving the ball back to Rutgers Prep with the clock ticking down.
“We knew No. 11 (Smith) was going to get the ball there at the end and I knew I had to lock him down, that was my job the whole game, so I just got a good check on him and knocked it free,” Gilpin said.
It didn’t look like the Mountaineers would need a late defensive stand to win it, especially after Will Kenny’s fourth goal of the game extended the lead to 6-4 with 3:53 left. Kenny, who netted three of his goals in the second half, said he and his teammates figured out how to expose the Rutgers Prep zone as the game went on.
“We learned how to love a zone and we really just shot a lot better as the game went on,” Kenny said. “We are coming together when it counts, and against a zone we just needed to keep cutting and be ready for the quick passes.”
The Mountaineers’ leading scorer, Declan Swartwood, netted a pair of goals and added an assist and Kyle Verduin picked up a pair of assists, both after finding soft spots in the Rutgers Prep zone defense.
But Bernards (10-7) needed to hang on for dear life after Vajda’s goal late in the fourth quarter, even though Kenny said he and his teammates have been in that spot together in the past.
“We just had to play our Bernards lacrosse after that timeout and they weren’t going to throw anything at us that we hadn’t seen before, so we just stayed focused and we’ve had close games like this before,” Kenny said. “ We wanted this one badly.”
Rutgers Prep held three different one-goal leads, but didn’t have the advantage on the scoreboard in the final 14 minutes of game play, after Smith’s third goal of the game with 2:18 left in the third quarter. Smith, who came into the game with 41 goals and 68 points, kept up his torrid pace with three goals and two assists. Vajda chipped in two goals and an assist for the Argonauts, but the team’s five goals tied for a season low.
“We knew they’d have a few guys that could really score and we just put our best poles on them and it got the job done,” Gilpin said.
The tournament’s No. 2 seed, Pingry, awaits next, and Kenny said his squad is ready.
“Every game is a big game and we just need to rely on our best ball-carriers — Declan and Robert (Schaufler). We’ve played the best, so now we need to show we can make a statement,” he said.