WEST WINDSOR: Pirates, Cougars miss lacrosse encore

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   The Montgomery High School and West Windsor-Plainsboro High South boys lacrosse teams were looking forward to a possible encore to their regular-season overtime thriller.
   Both, however, were eliminated in the Group III state tournament semifinals Tuesday, the fourth-seeded Cougars in a 10-6 loss at defending sectional champion and top-seeded Ridgewood, and the second-seeded Pirates in a 9-6 defeat at the hands of a physical third-seeded Shawnee squad.
   ”It’s been great,” said Pirates head coach Matt Foret. “I was saying to the guys, it’s tough, you don’t want to walk off the field disappointed because we had such a great season. We’re 18-3 and to have had a home game in the state semifinals has really been great.”
   WW-P South fell behind early, 4-1, only to bounce back and make it a 4-3 game at halftime. But Shawnee scored the first three goals of the second half before late penalties opened a window for the Pirates.
   ”It gave us opportunities and our man-up has been a strength all year,” Foret said. “We took advantage of the opportunities they gave us. We just couldn’t get enough.”
   The Pirates cut their deficit to 8-6 with five minutes left, but Shawnee scored barely 30 seconds later. WW-P South could not put together another late run.
   ”Time was our enemy there,” Foret said. “We just didn’t have enough time there. They do a really good job of ball possession and running the clock. Sometimes teams will have a weak player that you can get the ball from. They were all real solid with the ball.”
   Dave Twamley upped his school record for points with a goal and four assists, many of his helpers going to Dan Nesson. The junior notched four goals to keep the Pirates within striking distance.
   ”Dan can shoot the ball,” Foret said. “He can shoot the ball almost as good as anybody we’ve seen this year. We had a Princeton game where he was shooting like this and was able to get seven goals. When he starts getting one or two on cage, he gets a lot of confidence. The guys recognize that; they do a good job of looking to him.
   ”He’s sort of our most inexperienced guy out there. He’s a guy that played JV lacrosse last year. But he’s been a great asset to us. He’s scored some really big goals for us during the season. He almost got us back in it.”
   Nesson will be a key contributor again next year as the Pirates look to replace a senior class that is one of the best in school history. Among the seniors are Twamley, four-year starting goalie Evan Burke, midfielder Connor Farrell and 100-point scorer Eric Valero. The Pirates finished 18-3 despite losing one of their top junior attackmen, Jack Dennehy, to injury early in the season.
   ”It backs up a great season last year and it backs up an absolutely great career for our seniors, a bunch of whom have been four-year starters and been to the states every year,” Foret said. “They’ve won at least one state game three years. It’s been an incredible class for us. You have to give them all the credit in the world for what they’ve done, the heights they’ve brought this program to. It’s been a special thing to be a part of.”
   Montgomery has a smaller senior class, but they were crucial to their success. They brought along the younger players and helped the Cougars finish the season 16-6.
   ”With what our expectations were at the beginning of the season,” said MHS head coach Tim Sullivan, “we far exceeded them. They worked hard. They corrected the mistakes they were making to get here.”
   MHS was tied with Ridgewood, 1-1, after the first quarter, but the hosts outscored the Cougars, 7-2, over the next two quarters to pull away.
   ”They buried their shots,” Sullivan said. “That made the difference. When they took their shots, they put them away.
   ”They’re definitely good. If you play your game right and the ball bounces here and there, you could be OK. We had three possessions where we made mistakes and they capitalized. We were playing catch-up from then on.”
   MHS outscored Ridgewood, 3-2, in the last quarter, but they couldn’t claw back any further.
   ”That’s the one thing I’ve been happy about the teams I’ve had at Montgomery,” Sullivan said. “They never give up. They played good lacrosse throughout the whole entire game.”
   The game closed the careers of Greg Ives, who scored three goals to lead the Cougars, and Rudy Butler, who made nine saves, as well as defender Tripp Garinger. They were the only three to play significantly in last year’s sectional final loss to Ridgewood.
   ”It’s going to be tough to replace the seniors I’m losing,” Sullivan said. “There’s not many, but they’re really good.
   ”The improvement of all the individuals to take that next step up in their level of play made the difference,” he added. “It can’t just be three players. It has to be whole team.”