The night began on an off note when the public address announcer introduced Lenape as the “Spartans.”
Things went downhill from there for the Indians.
“I tip my hat to them,” Lenape senior Zach Cole said of Watchung Hills, which controlled play en route to a 10-3 victory Wednesday in the Group 4 state final in boys’ lacrosse. “We didn’t play our best but they were a great team, the best team we played this year.”
Watchung Hill (19-2) broke to a 3-0 lead in the first eight minutes and never looked back on a cool night at Hopewell Valley High School.
Matt LaJoie, Dante Venuto and Bryce Reece scored goals for Lenale (19-3), the South Jersey Group 4 champion.
But the Indians were a step behind the North Jersey champions for most of the game, and Reece’s blast with 0:02 remaining in regulation was the definition of too little, too late.
“They were the better team, no doubt about it,” Lenape senior Matt Ingersoll said. “They played better than us, hands down.
“Their defense was so good. We made some mental mistakes, but that was on us.”
Ingersoll said the Warriors’ team speed was the difference, a common refrain when South Jersey’s best teams match up with North Jersey powerhouse programs.
“They’re just so fast,” Ingersoll said. “They’re whole team is as fast as our fastest guys.”
Cole, a top faceoff man, said Watchung Hills’ depth was decisive. “They just roll these midfield lines,” he said.
After scoring victories this season over Bridgewater-Raritan and Montgomery, two teams in the Skyland Conference with Watching Hills, Lenape entered the state final for the second time in four seasons with confidence.
“I thought we could compete with them,” Lenape coach Bill Sutphin said. “But it was still North vs. South. We needed to play a near-perfect game and we made too many mental errors.”
Moorestown is the only South Jersey boys’ lacrosse team to have won a state title.
Lenape looked capable of competing with the North Jersey powers at times this season, but the Indians were unable to put together a crisp, clean performance on Wednesday night.
“We didn’t play our best but that’s credit to them,” LaJoie said. “They’re a great team.”
LaJoie, Cole, Ingersoll and Drew Bergman were top members of a senior class that reached the state finals in their first and last seasons.
“Those guys raised the bar of the program,” Sutphin said. “They made us one of the better programs in South Jersey.”
LaJoie said the loss in the last game wouldn’t detract from the Indians’ accomplishments this season and over the last four years.
“They won the ring,” LaJoie said of Watchung Hills. “But I have memories of four years with these guys that I’ll carry with me forever.”
Lenape 0 1 1 1 – 3
Watchung Hills 3 2 4 1 – 10
Goals: L-Matt LaJoie, Dante Venuto, Bryce Reese. WH: Connor James 4, Brian Richmond 3, Gavin DeForia 2, Joe Rica.
Saves: L-Rob Pensabene 8. WH-Spencer Bokach 7.