By Brian Deakyne
MORRISTOWN — All things considered, the Eagles accomplished one of their goals of the night.
Not much went right for the fifth-seeded Eagles, who fell 7-2 to top-seeded Randolph in the semi-finals of the NJSIAA Public A tournament, Tuesday night at Mennen Arena.
South lost their first game since Jan. 8, goalie Trevor Ralph got tagged with his first loss since he took over the starting position, and the Eagles saw themselves fall short of avenging their state finals loss from a season ago.
Still, trailing by five goals entering the final period, Middletown South did what head coach Stan Gutt had demanded all season: they won the third period.
Tyler Ralph put up a power play goal in the opening minute of the third period and although Randolph answered minutes later, the Eagles were able to end their impressive season on a mediocre note.
“This team was resilient all year long,” Gutt said. “We had a couple tough losses mid-way through the season, but our guys finished the season hard. We pride on the third period. We didn’t lose the third period tonight.”
The Rams scored five of their seven goals on the power play — including three in the second period on a five-minute major penalty against Ralph — to coast to the win and advance to the Public A finals on Friday night.
“Randolph is a good team, and we knew that we were in for a battle. When you take a couple bad penalties, you’re behind the eight-ball,” Gutt said.
Ralph was called for his third penalty of the night when he went crashing to the boards in the second period. He was charged with a five-minute major for boarding, and the Rams had no problem capitalizing on the opportunity, putting away three goals over the five minutes.
“That’s ridiculous that these guys are going to call that in a hockey game like this,” Gutt said. “The one ref didn’t put his hand up for us at all tonight. For me, we were playing against Randolph and playing against an official, too, so it’s not easy.”
Trevor Ralph stopped 14 of the 18 shots he faced before getting pulled in the second period, and senior Shubhro Bose turned away 15 of the 18 shots that came his way over the final period and a half.
The Eagles drew even in the first period when Chris Connor connected with Zach England for a short-handed goal with 3:51 left in the period. Connor lifted a back-handed pass to his linemate, and England lifted the puck to the top of the net.
Randolph answered by reeling off five unanswered goals.
“They just keep coming at you,” Gutt said. “We were ready for it, we worked on it in practice, but they’re coming at you with three hard lines. They’re strong, they’re big, they’re physical and our guys were a little beat up tonight.”
Eagles Roll to 4-1 Win Over Pascack Valley In Quarterfinal
WALL — Playing for the final time on home ice, Jimmy Burns wanted to make a statement.
The senior captain did just that for Middletown South, scoring two goals to lead the fifth-seeded Eagles to their second trip to the semi-finals in as many seasons.
Seniors Chris Connor and Zach England added goals as well, as Middletown South moved past Pascack Valley, 4-1, Sunday night at Jersey Shore Arena in the quarterfinals of the Public A state playoffs.
“It’s the last home game I’ll ever play, the last time I’ll ever put on the white jersey at this rink. The seniors were all just really feeling it before the game.
“We got together, we talked, and we decided that this was it. We’re making another run,” Burns said.
Burns, who recorded his 100th career point in last Thursday’s win over Marlboro, put the Eagles up 2-0 in the first period, when he ripped a wrist shot off the left post and into the net three seconds after South’s first power play had concluded.
“I saw the defensemen with the puck along the boards, and I knew he was going to go up the middle with it. I took one step and picked off the pass. I was able to walk in and the left side was open so I ripped it,” Burns said.
Connor originally gave Midd South the lead when he took a pass from behind the net and cranked a slap shot into the net.
“That was our big thing tonight, we wanted to come out and play hard right from the get-go,” Middletown South head coach Stan Gutt said. “Especially them coming into our building, if they got on top of us, they would have been able to play a trap and it would have been tough for us to break it.”
The Eagles out-shot the Indians 35-8, including a 12-3 advantage in the first period and a 13-3 tally in the third period.
Connor later fed England in the second period for a short-handed goal to put the Eagles up 3-0. Connor intercepted a pass along the offensive blue line, and England made one deke to slide the puck into the net.
Burns added a power play goal at the end of the second period after faking a pass, losing possession of the puck, regaining it, and burying the shot into the net. The goal came with 2:42 left in the second period, answering an Indians goal and extending the lead back to three goals.
“I was trying to just dump it in, but I saw a little gap between the two forwards,” Burns said. “I took it through the blue line, and lost the puck a little bit. I was able to get it back and get past the defensemen and beat the goalie.”
Eagles’ netminder Trevor Ralph stopped all eight shots he faced, including a breakaway in the beginning of the third period and a two-on-one at the end of the third period to seal the win.