Patriots score big early win vs. Howell
I t was the first week of April, but there was no downplaying the importance of an early season boys lacrosse match between the Howell High School Rebels and the Freehold Township High School Patriots.
In addition to the natural rivalry between the schools, these two programs are among the best squads in the Shore Conference A North Division, and with teams playing each other only once within the division, the April 4 game in Freehold Township took on added importance.
For Freehold Township’s new coach Mike Ferrando, the game was an opportunity to find out what his junior-dominated team was made of, and he learned plenty about his players as the Patriots rallied from a 6-4 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to defeat Howell, 9-8.
“They kept fighting,” Ferrando said. “The guys never gave up. They never thought it was over. Before the fourth quarter we told them that if we win the ground balls, we’ll win the game.”
That piece of advice and having Dan Bloodgood on their side helped the Patriots overcome the deficit they faced. Bloodgood, a junior attack, scored all five of Freehold Township’s goals in the fourth quarter. The game-winning goal came in the final :30.
“He’s our go-to player,” Ferrando said. “He’s a great player.”
Bloodgood had assists on three of the four goals he did not score, before taking over in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Steve O’Brien scored three goals for the Patriots.
Bloodgood helped offset Ryan King’s three goals for Howell and two goals from Howell frosh Mark Buannic.
Bloodgood (30 goals, 16 assists in 2011) and O’Brien are both strong finishers, and they have outstanding midfielders in Justin Albarran, Shane McGhee and Sean Koubek, all of whom are part of the junior class.
“We are looking to spread the ball around to take the pressure off Dan,” said Ferrando, adding that O’Brien’s early scoring has been doing just that.
While Bloodgood amassed eight points in the win over Howell, O’Brien had a hat trick, McGhee added two assists, Koubek tallied a goal and an assist, Albarran added an assist, and senior James Shelton assisted on two scores.
Defensively, the Patriots feel confident because of the presence of Todd Bitsko, a junior who is coming into his own and becoming a dependable goalie. Freehold Township has had a tradition of fine goalkeeping, and Bitsko is keeping that tradition alive. Senior Greg Gutkin is his backup.
Juniors Kevin Mara, Matt Kuziemski and Luke Ganz and freshman Collin Bitsko are the defenders in front of Todd Bitsko, and they have been solid. The Patriots improved to 2-0 with their win over Howell, having beaten North Brunswick, 13-0, on March 31. Bloodgood scored eight goals and added two assists in the Patriots’ win over the Raiders, and O’Brien handed out six assists.
For coach Derek Riechenbecher’s Howell Rebels, who opened their season with a 12-8 Shore Conference A North Division win over Ocean Township, the 2012 season still holds a lot of promise.
Replacing Rob Hart, who was last season’s A North Player of the Year, as well as high-scoring Kevin Scott and keeper Nick Schwarz will not be easy, but the Rebels do have six returning starters from last season’s Shore Conference Tournament and state tournament team.
“We have the chance to be better and more complete” than last year, Reichenbecher said. “It just depends on how quickly we can get our first midfield line to produce points and how quickly we can come together as a team.”
Howell is loaded up front on the attack with returning starters Alec Dambach, King and Ben Talcott.
In Dambach, a junior, the Rebels have one of the Shore Conference’s premier players. He scored 38 goals and added 37 assists in 2011. Dambach scored six goals and added four assists in the team’s first two games, and he should reach 100 career goals this spring. Dambach began the 2012 season with 69 career goals.
King scored eight goals in Howell’s first two games of the season.
Junior Nick Paolillo and two freshmen, Buannic and Jake Sherman, will see time as the fourth attackmen.
On defense, the Rebels have seniors Blase Dellavalle and James Bodecker as the cornerstones; both were starters last year. Senior Rob Leaks starts with them in the back, and junior Kevin Campfield, who saw action last year, is the long stick midfielder.
Junior Tyler Ornstein has stepped right in at goalie and has proved that he will be an asset for the Rebels.
Senior Elden Andrews, who has committed to Kean University, anchors a midfield that is new. Junior Tyler Verdoni and Andrew Rivero start beside Andrews, with Will Neyhart, a junior, and sophomore Joe Madaio playing more defensive roles at midfield.
Howell will host Red Bank Catholic on April 13 in a key A North contest. On April 14, Howell will host West Morris Central in a non-conference game.