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HOPEWELL TWP. — One of the most consistently good boys lacrosse programs in New Jersey features one of the most consistently good players in Mercer County history.
In another landmark day for Hopewell Valley, the Bulldogs won a state tournament game for the 11th straight season as senior Jake Sanderson eclipsed 100 points on the year.
Sixth-seeded Hopewell (11-6-1) beat 11th-seeded Lawrence (7-10) on Thursday, 14-8, and will next play at third-seeded Somerville (10-6) on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the South Jersey Group II quarterfinals.
“It’s been great. It’s a great group of guys,” said Sanderson, who ranks third all-time at Hopewell with 211 career points in three seasons. “We lost a bunch of seniors last year, which hurt us a little, but there’s a bunch of guys that stepped up this year, and I love it. It’s amazing.”
When reflecting on Sanderson, coach Matt Foret thinks about a player who consistently gives 100 percent effort in practice every day. The attackman is not particularly vocal but leads by example on a team featuring mostly underclassmen.
“He’s a quiet kid but he’s very focused, very competitive. But he’s welcoming,” Matt Foret said. “He makes Luke Caldwell and Ryan Foret and our young middies — Johnny Ellis who had a great game today — he makes them feel comfortable and he makes them feel like they belong. He doesn’t make it seem like I’m the senior and you guys are these young guys. They’re just together. You would almost think, if you saw them in the locker room, that they were all sophomores or juniors or seniors together. There’s no difference. It’s a tremendous type of leadership that he brings to us.”
Sanderson had a team-high six points in Thursday’s game with four goals and two assists. He said that seeing the whole field is where he has grown the most since his sophomore year, and that has translated to higher assist totals: eight as a sophomore, 36 last year and 47 this year.
“This year his assists, his ability to throw skip passes and move the ball really makes it hard for teams to kind of get a beat on him,” Matt Foret said. “If they take away his shots and send extra guys, people are gonna be open and he’s gonna find the open guys. It was a great performance from him today.”
Ellis netted a game-high five goals, while Alphonse Azara scored two. Hopewell got one apiece from Ryan Foret, Mike Meissner and Kyle Machusak. Ryan Foret also had two assists. Joeseph Demareski and Dylan Yasher each had one assist.
Hopewell blitzed Lawrence in the first quarter by winning six of the seven faceoffs and using an aggressive attack to build a 6-0 lead.
“Before we got out there, we knew it was so important to get off to a fast start,” Sanderson said. “We played them earlier in the year. They were up 3-1 I think after the first quarter, and we knew that they’re a good team and we knew we needed to come out hot or they were going to hang around. And we did exactly that. We came out hot and that just led us throughout the game.”
Lawrence matched Hopewell on the scoreboard for the final three quarters and ultimately had a better effort than in its 16-5 loss on April 13 during the regular season. This was the closest that the Cardinals have come to winning a state game in five appearances under coach Daniel Brennan since 2016.
Reilly Cahill notched four and three assists, while Alex Knab and Gabe McNamara netted two goals apiece. Josh Meredino had 13 saves to eclipse 500 for his career.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys for just working their tails off,” Brennan said. “That’s the one thing they’ve done for me and they’ve done for each other all season is they don’t quit. No matter the score of the game, whatever is happening, they continue to battle for each other. That’s all I care about.”
Brennan said that Lawrence had a game plan to counter Hopewell’s tendencies. Unfortunately slow starts have been the team’s Achilles’ heel all season, but the Cardinals did manage to tighten up their defense and string together better offensive possessions.
“I think our guys just kind of took a step off,” Matt Foret said. “I think we tried to slow things down a little bit offensively just to kind of keep control of the game, and I think that maybe kind of affected the intensity that our defense was playing with, and I think they just kind of caught us on some transition things that we didn’t do a good job on. But I think we can watch the film and get that stuff cleaned up.”
Looking ahead to the quarterfinals, Hopewell went 1-2 against Somerville in the past three tournaments including a 15-5 win in last year’s quarterfinals.
“I think we know them, they’re basically the same team as last year,” Sanderson said. “They’re gonna come out smoking against us. They’re gonna be hungry from last year. We killed them last year, and if I was Somerville I’d be so excited to play us, too.”
Somerville is the more experienced team than Hopewell this year, but the Bulldogs plan to find study film on the Pioneers. If Hopewell pulls off the upset, it would secure its ninth state tournament win and fourth sectional semifinal appearance under Matt Foret since 2018.
“Our guys know what an enormous task it’s gonna be to go play against Somerville,” said Matt Foret, whose team prepared for this moment during the season with tough out-of-conference games against teams such as Delaware Valley and Haddonfield. “They’re having a fabulous year. They’ve got a ton of talent. It’s gonna be a real challenge for us, but we’re excited about it.”
Lawrence (7-10) 0 2 3 3 – 8
Hopewell (11-6-1) 6 3 1 4 – 14
Goals – Cahill 4, Knab 2, McNamara 2 (L), Ellis 5, Sanderson 4, Azara 2, M. Meissner, Foret, Machusak (H).
Assists – Cahill 3 (L), Sanderson 3, Foret 2, Demareski, Yasher (H).
Shots – 15 (L), 30 (H).
Saves – Meredino 13 (L), D. Meissner 3 (H).
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