RICHLAND – Rob Pensabene proved to be the master of the understatement.
“This is kind of a big win for us,” said the sophomore goalie for the Lenape High School boys lacrosse after the Indians defeated St. Augustine 9-7 Wednesday in a non-league game.
A big win? There can be no denying that.
Consider that it had been three years to the day since the No. 2 Hermits last lost to a South Jersey rival, that setback coming to Shawnee, Lenape’s school district rival.
Coach J.C. Valore’s Hermits are annually considered one of South Jersey’s premiere teams, along with Moorestown and Shawnee.
“I know other teams around our area have had struggles beating this team,” Pensabene said. “But our team played outstanding today. I think we were ready for this one. Everyone kind of went after it.”
Over the past couple of seasons this has become a good matchup as Lenape program has continued to make strides in its development.
St. Augustine defeated Lenape by one goal in each of the two previous seasons, so it was not totally surprising to see the Indians rise up and win one.
“We’ve always been able to give them a good game,” said Lenape coach Bill Sutphin. “J.C. runs a great program and it was always one of our goals to try and beat them."
Matt Ingersoll led the way for the No. 4-ranked Indians with five goals, three of them coming in less than a minute during a game-breaking stretch in the fourth quarter.
“We just had to put our hearts into it and our minds into everything,” Ingersoll said. “We know what we could do when we play our best. We showed what we can do today.”
Pensabene did his part, as well, posting 11 saves, many of them coming on good shots produced by the potent St. Augustine offense.
“Going into it, it was a little nerve-wracking because this is my first year playing varsity,” said Pensabene. “But I have a lot of faith in the three guys who play close defense (Brett Gallagher, Donte Venuto and Mike Galaida) in front of me.”
Sutphin says his young goalie has been handling the pressure well.
“He’s playing with confidence,” he said. “We have high hopes for him. We think he’s playing great so far and the defense is allowing him time to see most shots.”
Possession was a big part of the game. Lenape had the ball a lot with the help of Zach Cole, who was dominating in face-off situations.
“We knew to beat a team like this we needed to be patient,” Sutphin said. “We had the ball early and we were always up by a goal or two, so that was helpful.”
It was clear from the outset that Lenape was going to be in contention throughout the game.
They jumped out to a 1-0 first-quarter lead on a goal by Will Mercado and never seemed to take a step backward the rest of the way.
St. Augustine came back to tie the score twice, but the Hermits never led.
“I think some of the guys who have been on the team trusted the patience, trusted the game-plan,” Sutphin said. “We capitalized on a couple of opportunities and we stopped a couple of theirs and that was the difference."
The Indians led 3-2 at the half with the help of the first of Bryce Reese’s two goals, only to have a goal by Dylan Tocco tie the score for the Hermits.
But then Reese and Ingersoll scored back-to-back goals for Lenape and the Indians dominated the action the rest of the way.
As the game progressed into the fourth quarter, Lenape took a 6-4 lead on a goal by Collin Wright.
Then Ingersoll blew the game open with three goals coming from the 6:03 mark down to the 5:28 mark of the fourth quarter to open a 9-4 lead.
“My team just found me and the ball rolled to me,” Ingersoll said. “We just finished today. We didn’t stop or slow down or anything. We just did what we had to do.”
The Hermits staged a late rally to score the last three goals, including the second goals of the game by Ethan Kazmierski and Max Gravenstine.
But the Lenape lead was too large to overcome.