By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — With Bernards-Somerville-Middlesex clinging to a one-goal lead in the third period, there was never any panic as Brick Township-Memorial brought the type of pressure one would expect in a state tournament game.
The reason for that? Goalie Baylyn Shankman.
The sophomore netminder was under siege for virtually the entire third period as Brick held a 15-3 shot advantage in the final 15 minutes. But she came up with several key saves, especially in the final minutes, to lift 16th-seeded Bernards-Somerville-Middlesex to a 4-2 win over 17th-seeded Brick Township-Memorial in the play-in round of the NJSIAA Public C Tournament at Mennen Arena.
“She is the rock,” BSM coach Paul Manore said. “The great thing about her, is that every kid in that room would die for her. That’s what makes it so special. She just rises to the occasion. I think she actually loves it. I think the more pressure she’s under, the better she plays, and that’s what I see. “
Shankman said of her focus level in the third period, “Just shut everything out and just focus on the puck. Don’t focus on the other team, don’t focus on the fans. Just focus on the puck and the game. Everything is just muscle memory from there. We just had to stick together as a team and keep our one goal in mind, and good things come from that.”
Senior Aidan Gallagher netted two goals for BSM, which built a 3-0 lead in the second period. Two of its goals came on the power play, with the other being the game’s opening goal with 6:01 to go in the first period by Dylan Leonard. Special teams ultimately proved to be a major factor in this game, as BSM went 2-for-3 on the power play, while going a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
“They’ve played together the whole year, so we’ve had that same power play unit together all year,” Manore said of the power play. “They kind of know where they’re going at this point. A good deal of it is ad-libbed. They’ve got set things that they do, but they do a lot of ad-libbing off of it, and they make really good plays. They’re looking not just for the play in front of them, but the next play. I think that’s why they’re so good together.”
Brick, however, began its comeback push late in the second period. Shane O’Neill scored with 38 seconds to go in the second to give it some momentum going into the third. It did just that, as it fired 15 shots on Shankman in the third. Jake Toye scored with 9:30 to go in the third to make it a one-goal game, but that was the only goal the sophomore allowed for the rest of the game.
“We just had to go back to our basics and get a reminder of what we’re able to do,” Shankman said. “We’re known for being a third period team. I knew that we’d be able to handle it. We all work really well under pressure, so I knew it would be okay.”
Shankman, in total, stopped 23 of 25 shots she faced. She also got on the scoresheet, getting a secondary assist on Tanner Clemson’s empty-net goal with 1:15 to go which sealed the game.
Manore added, “We know we’re still ahead, we have her in the net, and if we execute the game plan, we’ll be okay. We never panicked. We never got worried. Just stick to the game plan, let her do her job and we’ll be okay.”
It was the first win for Bernards in the state tournament since its last state tournament appearance, which came in the 2014-15 season. That year, it defeated West Windsor-Plainsboro South in the first round of the Public A tournament before falling to Bridgewater-Raritan in the second round.
For a program which has struggled over the years but has won Charette Cup titles the last two years, it’s an important milestone.
“People asked when we won the Charette Cup last year, what did that mean? It was a step up, and everybody’s expectations went up with it,” Manore said. “It’s terrific for these kids who’ve really put the effort in. We still have a couple of kids who are old Skyland Conference guys, so for them it’s terrific recognition and it’s a chance to be in the limelight.
“But in the end, it just raises the expectation going into the next year. Okay, you’ve won cups, you’ve been in the state tournament, take the next step and go above and beyond. They all buy into it, and they all feel it. It’s really another great step for the program.”
The win advanced BSM to Thursday’s first round, where it will take on top-seeded Morris Knolls-Hills at Mennen Arena at 6:15 p.m. It will be by far the biggest challenge the team has faced this season, as it takes on a team ranked No. 20 in the state by NJ.com, and not to mention has won back-to-back state championships in Public A in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
For a team that is still young and growing, it’s a challenge, but also an opportunity to see exactly where it is as a program at this point.
“They’re a really formidable opponent, obviously,” Shankman said. “But I think we can take them. We just have to remember what we can do. We can’t control them, we can only control ourselves. That’s what we’re going to have to do. It’s going to be a really hard game to win but I have faith and confidence in us, and I think we can do it.”
BSM — Dylan Leonard (Jimmy Hathaway, Ryan Leonard) 6:01 PPG
BSM — Aidan Gallagher 1:50
BSM — Aidan Gallagher (Tanner Clemson, Chris DeRogatis) 13:45 PPG
BT — Shane O’Neill (Logan Donnelly, Thomas Johnston) 0:38
BT — Jake Toye (Aiden Rozell, Logan Donnelly) 9:30
BSM — Tanner Clemson (Justin Gordon, Baylyn Shankman) 1:15 ENG
Shots on goal: Brick 25, BSM 21
Saves: Baylyn Shankman (BSM) 23, Kevin Toye (Brick) 17
Team records: BSM 15-3-3, Brick 8-9-2