By Mike Gurnis
Trips to the state championships at the Prudential Center in Newark have ended in celebrations for Randolph more often than not, as evidenced by the team’s eight state titles since 2002.
But recently, the home of the New Jersey Devils has become more of a house of horrors for the Rams. It had gone into Monday’s Public B final against Ridge having lost two of its last three finals appearances, including last year’s 1-0 loss to Northern Highlands. And once again on Monday, the Rams came up short in the final for the third time in four years, dropping a 4-1 loss to Ridge in the Public B final.
The game was knotted up at one going into the third period, but Ridge scored three straight, including Alex Konovalov’s go-ahead goal with 10:01 left, before Luke Rich added two insurance tallies to seal the game.
“We played a good team. They were good,” Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin said. “We came out and they had speed and we didn’t. They used their speed, and we didn’t get going until midway through the second period. We had to start taking chances and it got to us in the end. We lost to a good team today. Ridge is a really good team and they have a lot of firepower.”
Things got off to a perfect start for Randolph, as it scored just 3:25 into the game when Nick Gallo made a cross-crease pass to J.T. Zangara, who deposited the puck into a wide-open net to give the Rams the early lead.
The lead only lasted until the final few minutes of the first, however, as Alex Konovalov set up Blake Loges for the game-tying goal with 2:20 left in the first.
It was tied up at one going into the third, before Konovalov went top-shelf on Randolph goalie Gavin Einfeldt to give the Red Devils the lead for good.
Randolph was unable to get enough offensive pressure the rest of the way- and when it did- Ridge goalie Marcus Fabiunke was there to shut the door, as he finished with 25 saves.
“We didn’t forecheck today like we have been,” McLaughlin said. “We were kind of behind the play, I guess. I don’t know. We’ll have to look at the tape and see what went wrong. It just seemed like we were chasing the puck way too much.”
The Rams are now in the midst of its longest title drought since the program’s first state title in 2002, as it has now gone a full four seasons without a title since its last title- a Public A title against Howell in 2015.
It also marked the end of the road for Randolph’s five-man senior class, including standouts Austin Cross and Anthony Sofia. This group has been to the final in three of its four years of high school, and has suffered the agony of defeat each time.
“There’s nothing I can say to them to make them feel any better,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just something you have to go through. We got beat by a good team today. We weren’t as good as they were. They worked hard for four years some of these guys, and we just didn’t get there.
McLaughlin added: “We’ve got three or four seniors that have come here a couple of years in a row. It’s tough. That’s two years in a row that we’ve lost in the final. It’s tough. It’s not something that we can put our finger on, why we’ve lost. It’s certainly not for lack of trying. These guys really worked hard out there.”
RAN — J.T. Zangara (Nick Gallo) 11:35
RID — Blake Loges (Alex Konovalov) 2:20
RID — Alex Konovalov 10:01
RID — Luke Rich (Alex Konovalov, Tyler Ebeling) 6:18
RID — Luke Rich 0:28 ENG
Shots on goal: Randolph 26, Ridge 20
Saves: Marcus Fabiunke (Ridge) 25, Gavin Einfeldt (Randolph) 16