Stewart Field located in Flemington, New Jersey played host as the Hunterdon Central Red Devils defeated the Pope John Lions in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament Final, 10-3. The Red Devils got revenge after a shocking upset loss to Pope John in last year's county finals.
Before winning the Group 4 state title last year, the Devils were upset in the county championship game by this same Pope John team, 11-7, to earn Pope John's first ever program tittle.
Not even the cold and rainy temperatures could stop the Red Devil faithful from coming out as the stands were filled with a sea of red umbrellas covering the bleachers. The local fans came to support the powerhouse lacrosse program that has won 10 county titles, built by head coach Mike Vergalito.
This year, the Red Devils are off to one of the best starts in program history led by 11 seniors - the team has yet to lose a game, winning 11 straight. Currently ranked #5 in the NJ.com top 20, Central knocked off Lenape Valley and North Hunterdon by multiple goals each to advance to the championship.
Rain continued to pour as #31 junior Sean Creter ran to midfield, greeted with a huge round of cheers and loud cowbells. Fixing his white gloves, he reaches out to shake hands with Pope John senior Jack LaBanca, a notion of respect between two of the states best face-off players.
Creter, who is verbally committed to Maryland has won over 75% of his face offs taken this season and is arguably Central's best player. Sean Creter opening face off.
As the whistle blows the first face-off is controlled by Creter and helps Hunterdon Central take possession. The game starts off slow as both teams fail to gain possession but a mistake by the Devils defense gives Pope John its first shot on net 3 minutes into the game but senior Dillon Baehr steps in to make a key save. Clearing the ball the Devils are able to push the pace quickly as a minute later senior Brendan Lehrer is able to find the back of the net to put Central on the board 1-0. Pope John is quick to answer as less than two minutes later Jack Sakowski dials up a shot that hits the top of the net to tie the game back up 1-1.
Dominating the face-offs Central pushes the ball to senior Vinnie Devito who fires a pass back to a moving Sean Creter who delivers a missile for his first goal of the game giving Central a 2-1 led. Both sides battled back as Pope John's offense moved the ball around to Jack LaBanca who scored his first goal of the game as the game reached another tie 2-2. With just under 3 minutes to go Creter delivers his second goal of the game capping off his dominate first quarter winning every single face-off.
In the second quarter an early time-out for the Lions allowed for the Red Devils to come together and run a play coming after the time out.
"Georgia! Boston! Boston!" yells out Red Devils assistant head coachvTom Bill to his offense, queuing up the play they previously discussed.
The time-out allowed for #2 stand-out midfield Owen Bill to attack the defense finding teammate Chris Bill who delivers an impression behind the back shot to give the Devils a two-goal lead in the second. Owen Bill is a two-sport standout for Hunterdon Central who is committed to play football at Monmouth University in the fall.
The second quarter was controlled by the outstanding Red Devils defense who holds teams to just 4.5 goals per game and is led by senior Frankie Lentine. Lentine is commited to play lacrosse at Stony Brook but is also a 2-year starter at quarterback for the Devils in the fall.
Senior Dylan Johnson who leads the team with 36 goals continues his impressive season adding another as Central goes into half time leading 8-3.
The third quarter was dominated by Hunterdon Central as they out hustled Pope John to every ground ball including a diving effort by Lentine to keep the ball in play which fired up the home crowd. Taking control of field position Creter is able to split two defenders to score his third goal of the game putting the Devils up 9-3. Pope John tries to set up one more play before the end of the quarter but Baehr makes a huge save to end the quarter as the rain slowly begins to stop.
Holding the ball for most of the quarter Hunterdon Central's Dylan Johnson finds Devito for the final goal icing the game for Central giving them a 10-3 led which ultimately was too much to overcome for Pope John. As the final horn sounds the Red Devil faithful are quick to fill the stadium with loud cow bells and cheers as the players start to line up to shake hands.
Creter was presented with tournament MVP for his three goals and winning 13 of his 16 face-offs in the game.
Hunterdon Central Sets Sights on States
Hunterdon Central will now begin their journey to defend their state title as they try to win back to back Group 4 championships.
Stay tuned as Jersey Sporting News will be there to cover the state playoffs beginning next week.