The Pope John XXIII Regional High School boys lacrosse team again reigns supreme.
Sophomore Travis Heller stole the ball, swooped in and scored with 1:44 remaining in overtime to lift top-seeded Pope John to an 11-10 victory over third-seeded Hunterdon Central in the championship game of the 13th Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament on Saturday afternoon, May 13 in Sparta.
The title is the second in three seasons for Pope John, which faced Hunterdon Central all three years. Hunterdon Central defeated Pope John in last year’s final while Pope John earned the title in 2021.
“It was a barn burner for sure,” said head coach Chris Hoffmann. “It was a typical game with Hunterdon Central, which is a familiar opponent to us. Coming off of last year I think the difference Saturday was our senior leadership and we were just hungry to win it again.
“We were up by two goals with two minutes left in regulation, but even though we ended up going to overtime, we still had full confidence that we would pull it out.”
Pope John (11-3) boasted nine different scorers against Hunterdon Central, including Johans Bars, who had three goals.
The other Lion scorers included Heller (one goal, three assists, two ground balls), Jack Sakowski (one goal, one assist), Nick McIvor (one goal, one assist, three ground balls), Ryan McCarthy (one goal, one assist), Marco Aquino (one goal, one assist), Lucas Biddiscombe (one goal), Tommy Smaldone (one goal) and game MVP Mikey Ramirez (one goal, seven ground balls, won 11-of-25 face-offs). Goalie Joseph Barnish made 14 saves to anchor the Lions’ defense.
Ramirez, a sophomore, marked University of Maryland-bound Shawn Creter and held the 44-goal scorer to just two goals.
“Mikey battled Creter all day and really kept us in the game,” said Hoffmann, now in his 11th season at the helm.
Pope John held a 10-8 lead before Hunterdon Central scored with 1:44 remaining to cut its deficit to one goal. The Red Devils then scored immediately after the ensuing face-off to knot the game, 10-10, just five seconds later.
The Lions had advanced to the final with a 16-4 win over fifth-seeded Vernon in the semifinal round at home Tuesday, May 9.
That game saw Ramirez win all 19 face-offs taken as well as add 15 ground balls and one assist.
Other offensive standouts included Heller (four goals, two assists, three ground balls), Eric Vargas (four goals, four ground balls), Sakowski (three goals, three assists, four ground balls), McIvor (seven ground balls), McCarthy (one goal, two assists), jack Gallucci (two goals, one assist), Bars (two goals, one assist, two ground balls), Wes Taylor (three ground balls) and Nick Caruso (three ground balls).
Sakowski (17 goals, 29 assists), Heller (21 goals, 19 assists), Vargas (21 goals, seven assists), McCarthy (13 goals, 13 assists) and Bars (18 goals, two assists) lead the Lions in scoring.
Pope John’s three losses were to No. 1 Delbarton (16-3 on April 11), No. 7 Mountain Lakes (13-5 on April 29) and No. 14 Chatham (7-6 on April 3).
The Lions also clinched the Waterman Division of the New Jersey Junior Lacrosse League with a perfect 6-0 mark and a two-game lead with just one game remaining.
“We play the best in the state non-stop, and that schedule is like second nature to us as it prepares us for any opponent,” said Hoffmann. “We go into every year with goals, and winning the Waterman and the H/W/S were two of them. We’re looking forward to the state tournament that is coming up and feel we match up well with the teams we’ll likely face.”
Sparta girls lacrosse
The third-seeded Sparta High School girls lacrosse team dropped a 19-8 decision to second-seeded North Hunterdon in the semifinal round of the H/W/S Tournament on May 9 in Annandale.
North Hunterdon was slated to meet top-seeded Hunterdon Central in the championship game on Tuesday, May 16.
Sparta (9-7), which trailed, 11-3, at the half, was led by Uma Kowalski (six goals, one assist, three ground balls, four draw controls), Leah Moore (one goal) and Jane Bleakley (one goal).
We go into every year with goals, and winning the Waterman and the H/W/S were two of them. We’re looking forward to the state tournament that is coming up and feel we match up well with the teams we’ll likely face.” - Chris Hoffmann, head boys lacrosse coach, Pope John XXIII Regional High School