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Delbarton, Ridge, Watchung Book Trip to State Finals

13th-Seeded Watchung Hills Pulls Fourth Upset in the NJSIAA/Devils State Tourney

by John Christian Hageny @JCCSPORTS / newjerseydevils.com

WEST ORANGE -- The field is set for the 2017 NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils State Tournament as the Delbarton Green Wave, Ridge Red Devils and never-say-die 13th-seeded Watchung Hills Warriors booked their ticket to the finals with victories in the semifinals at Codey Arena in West Orange last night. Here's a recap of all three bouts:

Public A

Semifinals

13-Watchung Hills 6, 9-Princeton 3: No one expected them to be here and that suits Watchung Hills just fine.

Matt Piro turned in his second hat trick of the season at the most opportune time, Zach Lindewirth scored twice and Daniel Lee added a goal and an assist while goaltender Ryan McHugh stood tall with 31 saves as 13th-seeded Watchung Hills continued to let its play do its talking as it fashioned yet another upset with a 6-3 triumph over ninth-seeded Princeton in the semifinals of the Public A State Tournament at Codey Arena Thursday night.

Trailing 3-2 late in the second period, Lee's goal with 34 seconds left in the middle frame proved crucial for Watchung Hills, tying the game up at 3-3 heading into the second intermission and setting up a third period for all the marbles.

"We got a good forecheck and jumped on 'em quick," Piro said. Zach -- he's such a great shooter. My job is to get in front of the net and create traffic. Zach made a nice play to catch the puck right before the blue line, turned, made a move past one player and luckily enough it went off my foot and went in."

Piro's second goal of the game marked the second of four unanswered goals for Watchung Hills, which added a pair of empty-net goals over the final 1:08 in what was an otherwise tight game throughout the contest.

"We all know it -- we're not supposed to be here," Piro said. "We don't have a winning program like Ridge, Bridgewater, but we're creating our own history right now. Most of us have never experienced anything like this. Each game is the biggest of our career and we just keep doing it."

Watchung Hills (12-6-7) is heading back to the state finals for the first time since 2008. It is seeking its first championship in school history.

"Pretty emotional obviously -- first time we've been here since '08," Lindewirth said. "It was our best team game we've played so far. I think we needed that. This was definitely the best team we've seen so far. But we were prepared, watched film on them and shut them down pretty good."   

Nick Ashcroft, Tooker Callaway and Rocco Salvato scored for Princeton (15-4-4), which pulled two upsets, including the take down of top-seed Morris Knolls, before finally bowing out.

"Zach, Ryan and Matt -- those are the players you lean on. You have your leadership and they play hard every night," Watchung Hills coach Anthony Criscitello said. "They know they can trust in each other, go out and work hard and they'll be successful. Hopefully we can take one home on Sunday that would be nice."

2-Ridge 4, 3-Randolph 2: "It's fun isn't it?" -- That was question long-time Ridge coach Tim Mullin posed before one of his team's biggest games in school history.

Will Allen opened the scoring, John Vilade scored twice including his twisted writer in the third, and Jack Mandala delivered the game-winning goal as second-seeded Ridge booked a return engagement to the state finals with a 4-2 triumph over third-seeded Randolph in the semifinals of the Public A State Tournament at Codey Arena in West Orange.

The victory was a milestone for Ridge, seeking its first NJSIAA title since 2008, while sending a perennial contender in Randolph home early for just the third time in the last 10 years.

"It's very difficult to break Randolph in the state tournament," Mullin said. "They are in it almost every year, very tough to beat them, but not this year… the boys really came through. Pretty exciting, it's great isn't it?"

Allen dictated play from the drop of the puck when the senior put his Somerset County team on the board just 4:32 into the game. Vilade doubled it with his first of two as the Red Devils skated into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead. 

"We haven't been doing too well against Randolph recently. Last year we lost to them in the state semifinals so we were really pumped," Allen, who just made his return to the lineup. 

"My line isn't the prettiest line, we grind a lot so we know what we're working for. My linemate Brian Breslow took a hit to make a play, I got the puck, figured I got the shot and took it," Allen described his goal. "I got lucky."

Jack Mandala gave his Basking Ridge school a 3-0 lead after two but Jack Zimmer slashed into it when he put Randolph on the board 5:01 into the third. The Rams continued to fire away on Chris Ambrozy (25 saves) and very nearly made it a one-goal game before Vilade forced a turnover and ripped a shot top-corner, glove-side to put Ridge up 4-1. 

"That was the difference. Could you feel the momentum change? I could feel it," Mullin said with a laugh. "If he doesn't do that I think they come on. Very important goal. We're going back to the luncheon at 'The Rock.' Pretty cool." 

Ridge (22-6-1) will take on Watchung Hills in a rematch of the 2008 finals. The puck drops on Sunday, March 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.

Non-Public

Semifinals

1-Delbarton 6, 4-Christian Brothers 3: No one does celebrations better than Delbarton. The Morris Township institution has had tons of practice over the years with 11 state titles to its credit, but Thursday night's triumph was extra special even by its standards.

Jack Malone, Pat Harrington, Hunter Macy, Mark Benemerito, Jalen Kaplan and Andrew Bosland scored in order while Troy Kobryn made 21 saves as the top-seeded Green Wave swept past fourth-seeded Christian Brothers Academy, 6-3, at South Mountain. 

Twice Delbarton took the lead and twice Christian Brothers battled back to tie before a pair of power-play goals from defensemen Macy and Kapan turned the tide for the Green Wave. 

"He didn't see it coming," Macy said of his power-play goal with 4:49 left which sent Delbarton into the second intermission with a 3-2 lead. "It was really big for the momentum on this team. It really got us going and we came out firing in the third and got a couple more." 

After Kaplan converted Delbarton's second power-play goal of the game in the third period, Garrett Silverman cut it to 5-3 for CBA but it could not dent the deficit any further. 

"When you take penalties and they convert on them, that's Delbarton's M.O.," CBA coach Ryan Bogan said. "They get you down and they pound and pound -- and you can dig, but there's only so many times you can dig. They just kept coming, to a point where you have to play with desperation and when you play desperate you get scored on… I thought the effort was there tonight, but I don't think the energy was. Delbarton outplayed us -- and deserved to win." 

The defending state champion, Delbarton (26-1-2) is in search of an unprecendented 12th NJSIAA title. It will take on Don Bosco Prep (20-6-1) in the state final on Monday at 4:30 p.m. at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.

"I thought we were resilient," Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel said. "Every time we lost the momentum we found a way to make a play and respond but CBA had a lot of fight in them. You can't let your guard down. Every time it looked like they were starting to turn the table we got one back. It's a tribute to our character. It's team that doesn't quit. What they've accomplished so far has been terrific and we hope to continue it on Monday."  

"The biggest thing I'm talking about to the guys before heading into this final is just to embrace the moment," Delbarton team captain Mark Benemerito said. "You only get so many of these opportunities in a career and you can't take them for granted. You have to give a full effort every time you step on the ice and that's what will win you games.That's the way we approach it and that's how we'll approach the final."

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