BRIDGEWATER – For nearly the entire first quarter on Saturday afternoon, Group IV champion Westfield High School boys lacrosse team dominated the flow of play against Mountain Lakes in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
After Luke Prybylski netted his 12th goal of the postseason to put the Blue Devils on top 1-0 at the 9:22 mark, Westfield held the lead until the final seconds of the stanza.
With nine ticks left in the opening quarter, Mountain Lakes’ Brad Smith netted his first of four goals to tie the score and just seven seconds into the second quarter Christian Cuccinello went on his own four-goal tear, erasing the Westfield lead and turning it into a 13-6 victory for the Lakers at Bridgewater-Raritan’s Basilone Field.
Cuccinello netted four of his game-high five goals in an 8:40 stretch in the second quarter, putting the Lakers up 5-1 in the process. From there, he and Smith — who finished with four goals and three assists — led the way as the Group I champs scored nine straight goals in the middle periods to seize control.
“Even in that second quarter, we had opportunities where we stopped them on D and got the ball coming down the field and turned it over. We knew they were going to ride hard; they’re an athletic team and we just weren’t crisp enough today,” Westfield head coach Pat Tuohy said. “When you play in a game like this, this is the best of the best, and this is when you have to be on your best. We didn’t have our best in about two and a half quarters. If we could have replicated the first quarter the whole game; that was our game plan.”
Cuccinello, a senior, impressed his coach with his ability to take the game over and turn a deficit into a victory in the blink of an eye.
“He got us a couple of goals and everybody else just kind of fell in line,” Mountain Lakes coach Tim Flynn said. “He’s an outstanding player and probably a better person. He has an exceptional ability to recognize things and do the right thing for his team.”
Prybylski, who entered play with 46 goals on the season, book-ended the Mountain Lakes run with his 13th goal in five NJSIAA postseason games. Chris Aslanian added two goals and Pat Decker and Dan Huber each found the back of the net in the second half for Westfield, which turned a mid-season swoon into a surprising run through the past two Tournament of Champions winners — Bridgewater-Raritan and Ridge — in the North Group IV Tournament and the South Group IV champion Southern Regional, to reach the Tournament of Champions.
“I’m just really proud of our guys,” Tuohy said. “We battled hard all season and it was really a special season. I talked to the seniors about it; the goal at the end of the season, trophies or not, is to leave the program better than you found it and every single one of these kids can keep their head high, knowing they did that. We did something we hadn’t done in 20-plus years and that’s a special thing. I told them it was a real honor to coach them. They do just as much for me as I ever do for them, if not more.”