RIDGE – Sean O’Brien netted the game-winning goal midway through the fourth quarter to lift the Ridge High School boys lacrosse team to its second straight Somerset County Tournament title, 8-6 over top-seeded Immaculata, Thursday night on its home field. O’Brien also netted the final goal of the night with 1:22 left to put it out of reach for good, giving the third-seeded Red Devils their fifth straight victory overall.
“I felt great before that first goal and I knew that their goalie would retreat once JT took it up, so I stepped out and set up and put it in,” O’Brien said.
JT Palladino, an All-American who will play his college lacrosse at Harvard next spring, assisted on both of O’Brien’s goals and was one of eight Red Devils to record at least one point in a comeback effort.
Ridge (12-5) received a sterling performance from game MVP Owen Molloy, who made 12 saves in the net and thwarted many of Immaculata’s chances to backstop his squad to yet another huge victory.
“I was seeing the ball and the defense were putting their offensive players in the right spots and we scattered their shooting, so we knew where it was coming from,” Molloy said. “I just got my hands up and made some saves.”
Molloy and Immaculata goalie Joe Riccadonna put on a show throughout the night, as the two goalies combined for 22 saves, with Riccadonna making eight stops in the Spartans’ net.
Molloy was quick to praise his counterpart after the game.
“I have to tip my hat to Joe, he played outstanding in the cage and that’s great defense on both sides,” Molloy said. “We knew the goals were going to drop at some point.”
Ridge didn’t get on the board until 11 minutes into the game, when Rich McKenna converted a pass from Gavin Kirkwood, but the Red Devils absolutely owned the second quarter, to seize some of the momentum.
Ridge had possession for the first six minutes of the quarter, after winning the faceoff, and although they couldn’t score during that spurt, the effort never wavered and in the final minute of the half, Kirkwood tied the score when he ripped home his 17th goal of the season with 57 seconds left.
Immaculata (12-3) won the ensuing faceoff, but after Molloy made a save, Liam Derkasch scooped up the ground ball and raced down field and scored with 14 seconds left in the half to put Ridge on top for the first time.
“Getting those two goals late was very big,” Derkasch said. “We had the ball so long and kept the momentum in a big game like this, on our turf.”
In the third quarter, Ridge received a scoring boost from an unlikely source, as sophomore Matt Mullan netted a pair of momentum-swinging goals in a two-minute span to give Ridge a lead going into the fourth quarter. Ridge head coach Ken Marsh said that Mullan has been battling an injury and hasn’t played much since the beginning of the season, but he’s getting healthy just at the right time.
“We’re getting him back healthy, which is nice, obviously,” Marsh said. “Getting a player like Matt healthy at this time of the year is key and it’s a really big thing for us.”
Connor and Chandler Vanderbeek scored back-to-back goals for Immaculata spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, tying the game at 5-5. The twins scored three of Ridge’s six goals on the night, but none after the 11:28 mark of the fourth stanza, when Chandler went flying through the crease to beat Molloy.
Kevin Quigley gave Ridge the final lead of the night at 6-5, when he took a pass from Alex Gaydos and beat Riccadonna at the 7:44 mark of the final quarter. O’Brien’s first goal pushed the lead back to two at 7-5, but Griffin Vanderbeek brought the Spartans back within one less than 30 seconds later.