Attackman Scott Bieda sang the praises of his team's defense, fellow attackman Justin Higgins loved the play of goalie Zach Jones, and defenseman Connor Murphy raved about the big early lead provided by the offense led by Bieda and Higgins.
Slightly different words and main characters for these three Bridgewater-Raritan standouts, but clearly all were on the same page when they spoke of unity and hard work and with a deep appreciation for the efforts of others.
Plaudits were in high volume and all well-deserved as Bridgewater-Raritan, No. 1 in The MSG Varsity New Jersey Power Rankings, rolled to an 8-2 win over No. 8 Ridge in a key Skyland Conference clash Thursday afternoon in Bridgewater.
Higgins netted four goals, Bieda scored twice and Murphy anchored a stingy defense to help Bridgewater (3-0), the reigning Tournament of Champions king, raise its state-high winning streak to 18 games. Ridge fell to 2-1 after outscoring its first two opponents, 29-6.
"We came out strong. We knew they were gonna be good, so we came out firing," Bieda said.
He and fellow senior Higgins scored twice each to guide the Panthers to a 5-0 halftime lead. Jones played a vital role in that masterful half by making six of his eight saves.
"For me as an attackman, it's nice to see the defense play like that," Bieda said. "They played outstanding. To shut them down is something special."
John Longordo scored once in that overpowering first half, and would have had more if not for the splendid goalkeeping of Ridge sophomore Owen Malloy. He rejected nine shots in the half before making way for junior T.J. Jones, who stopped five shots in the second half.
Zach Jones only needed to make two saves after intermission simply because Ridge shooters weren't visiting his neighborhood too often. The Red Devils' Connor Meth scored in transition 1:01 into the third quarter after a save by his goalie, and Rob Macey connected on an extra-man opportunity to cut the deficit to 5-2 with 8:02 left in the period.
But turnovers plagued Ridge in the opening half and again played a factor as Bridgewater ratcheted up its ride pressure and defenders Murphy, Evan Mock, Andrew Henghemule and pole Jared Kaden essentially built a tall wall around Jones.
"That ride is a big part of it," Murphy said. "They do a great job of keeping the ball in that half of the field. It keeps the pressure off us."
Bieda and his offensive buddies are more than happy to oblige. To him, the goals are great and the assists just wonderful, but all kinds of variables can affect their consistency. Not so when it comes to riding or digging out ground balls.
"It's all heart," the Manhattan-bound standout said. "Most teams, that's not even part of their game. For us, it's a big part of our game. All three of the attackmen all ride as hard as we can. Look, we got three goals off that today. That's big."
Ridge is a team also well known for its riding ability, and it was on full display in the third quarter. The Red Devils forced six turnovers and held Bridgewater scoreless behind the solid defensive play of Chris Palladino, Mitchell Gray and Brian Mangion.
"They tried to get momentum; they came out tough," Murphy said. "We had to come out strong and hold them down until the offense could take over again. We're just trying to keep the goals as low as possible and trying to keep the mistakes down, too."
After going almost 22 minutes without a goal, Bridgewater grabbed a 6-2 lead when Higgins connected from point-blank range off a feed by Mike DiPascali. DiPascali scored off a pass by Ryan Hollingsworth with 2:51 remaining and Higgins finished off the scoring 1:36 later.
With his four goals, Higgins became the third Panther to take individual scoring honors in the first three games. Longordo sank four in a 20-1 win over Cherry Hill East and Hollingsworth opened the season with four in a 15-6 victory against Watchung Hills. Don't be surprised if Bieda, Ray Mastroianni, Steve Danyluk or someone else leads the way in the next game.
"We're not worried about the stat sheet. None of us are," Higgins said. "We're worried about moving the ball around and getting the ball to whoever has the easiest shot."
Ridge opened with a man-to-man and Bieda quickly punctured that with a wrap-around 1:30 into the contest. The Red Devils eventually switched to zone, but the Panthers adjusted accordingly.
"We've got our man sets and we've got our one sets and we're comfortable against both," Higgins said. "It doesn't really matter to us. We just wanted to come right off the bat and get the lead. It's not easy to come back in this game, so we wanted that lead."
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS