By Brian Deakyne
RED BANK — Big goals, big saves, big defensive moves.
That was the recipe for success for the Rumson-Fair Haven girls lacrosse team in their 7-6 upset win over previously unbeaten Red Bank Catholic last Saturday.
After leading for most of the day, the lady Bulldogs took the lead for good with 2:17 remaining in the game, and their defense did the rest of the work, making that lead stand through the final seconds at Count Basie Park.
“We’ve been in this spot before and we wanted it back,” Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Amy O’Keefe said. “They played us really tough and kind of took us by surprise, so kudos to them.”
After Kelsey Cuje scored the go-ahead goal, the Caseys had a chance to tie the game, but RFH goalie Madison Nullen stood tall, turning away all of Red Bank Catholic’s chances.
“We just wanted to apply some pressure so they couldn’t find a connection,” O’Keefe said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do lately, just pressure the ball.”
Sophomore attack Maeve Cowley looked to connect with sophomore midfielder Grace Fallon with just under 15 seconds to play, but the pass never reached Fallon, with a number of Bulldogs defenders in the way.
Rumson eventually got the clear as time ticked away, sealing the win.
“We were just trying to spread some things out, and we didn’t execute the way we wanted to,” Red Bank Catholic head coach Lisa Caprioni said. “You got to give them a little credit, they played some great defense, too.”
Rumson-Fair Haven was able to take a two-goal lead into halftime, after jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the first half.
The Bulldogs won five of the seven faceoffs in the first stanza, including four straight after losing the first one, helping them jump out to the fast lead.
“It’s always huge, the possession of the ball, and we knew that. We just tried to change it up a couple of times and it worked out,” O’Keefe said.
After Bridget Curran’s goal less than three minutes into the game to draw the Bulldogs even, Nicole Dunphy scored twice in less than a minute, taking the pass both times from Claire Scarrone. Dunphy broke into the slot on both occasions, and Scarrone was able to hit her in stride from behind the net.
Cuje scored her first goal later in the first half, pushing RFH’s lead to 4-1 with 7:39 left in the half.
Fallon added her first goal with five minutes remaining in the half, drawing RBC closer at 4-2.
Cowley scored the games opening goal for the lady Caseys’ giving them the early lead less than two minutes into the game.
Red Bank Catholic came out firing in the second half, due in large part to their ability to win the draws.
Rumson got the first draw of the second half, but RBC fought back to win the next five, helping them erase two separate two-goal deficits.
“We just kind of moved some people around in spots and tried some different things,” Caprioni said. “We have a couple of people that take the draws, we have a couple of different formations on the circle and we tried a couple different things until things were going our way and we stuck with it.”
Red Bank Catholic got two quicks goals from junior attack Emily Kerekes and senior midfielder Kaitlyn Cunningham to tie the game at four, but minutes later, Rumson-Fair Haven answered right back to take another two-goal lead.
Scarrone scored by beating three RBC defenders and putting her shot up high to put RFH back on top, and later fed Dunphy cutting to the net for the third time of the game with under 13 minutes left to put the lady Bulldogs up, 6-4.
Fallon pounded home her second goal of the day with 7:46 remaining to draw RBC within a goal, and Cunningham curled from behind the net into the slot with just under five minutes left to draw the teams even, once again, at 6-6.
Both goalies — Rumson-Fair Haven’s Nullen, along with Red Bank Catholic’s Rebecca Barlie — came up with huge stops on the day, keeping the teams even until Cuje’s game-winning goal.
“I told her to pull it out [earlier in the game],” O’Keefe said of Cuje’s game-clinching goal, “And this time I kind of just let her take the shot. We had to go for it.”
“We have a very special group of kids this year and I couldn’t be more proud,” Caprioni said. “We lost today, but it was a one-goal loss. We have the Shore Conference Tournament coming up, so hopefully we will see them again.”
The win puts Rumson near the top of the conference, and with the tournament approaching, O’Keefe wants her team to stay right there.
“We’re psyched to be where we are, and we want to stay here,” O’Keefe said.