SOMERVILLE - Southern Regional High School senior lacrosse player Tyler Lipositz grabbed the first-aid kit off the Rams' bench Wednesday and began to untie the faded, soggy green bandana that was attached to the handle.
"I put it on there three years ago for good luck," Lipositz said. "And now that my high school career is over, I'm taking it home with me."
The handkerchief served its purpose for Lipositz and the entire Rams program.
Although they suffered a 12-4 loss to Ridge in Wednesday's state Group IV final at Somerville High School, just reaching the title game capped an amazing season that saw Southern post an 18-2 record.
Not bad for a program that had just one winning season in its first six years of existence, before this group of seniors.
Lipositz and 14 other seniors turned the Rams around by going a combined 62-20 in the last four years.
"Are we happy losing tonight? No," Southern coach John Pampalone said. "Am I extremely proud of these guys? Absolutely. I can't say enough about this group of 15 seniors.
"Four or five years ago, we were just another team, but they helped turn us into a very strong program. We know Ridge is an elite team, but we came up here, we played hard and we competed, and I can't ask for much more than that."
Ridge (18-3), located in Somerset County, won its second state title in the last four seasons.
The Red Devils are ranked No. 3 in the state and 49th in the nation by laxpower.com. Their lineup Wednesday featured seven players who have scheduled to play lacrosse at NCAA Division I programs.
The Red Devils were led Wednesday by senior midfield Eric Scott. Scott, who is headed to Yale University, scored four goals. Junior attack Owen Malloy, who is going to play goalie for Notre Dame, registered two goals and an assist, as did junior midfield Alex Gaydos.
But it took a while for Ridge to take command.
Southern, which was making its first-ever appearance in a state final, stunned the pro-Ridge crowd when senior midfield Al Manzo whipped a pass from Lipositz past Ridge senior goalie T.J. Jones with 45.8 seconds left in the first period to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.
"No offense to Southern, but they're from the South (section of the state) and we probably overlooked them a little bit in the beginning," Scott said. "But give them credit. They came out and just played better than we did in the first period. That was a real wakeup call for us. We have a lot of respect for that team."
The Rams couldn't sustain the momentum, however.
The Red Devils didn't waste much time in showing why they are strong contenders to win the upcoming Tournament of Champions.
Scott scored his first goal 16 seconds into the second quarter to tie the game at 1-1. Malloy scored with 9:24 to go in the period, then fed J.T. Palladino for a goal seven seconds later to put Ridge up 3-1.
Gaydos stretched the lead to 4-1 with 5:33 left. Junior attack Brendan Mullen got the Rams fans revved up with a goal that cut the deficit to 4-2, but Gaydos answered 46 seconds later to give the Red Devils a 5-2 halftime lead.
Ridge put the game away with five goals in the third period to go ahead 10-2. Sophomore midfield Chris Smith and junior midfield Brian Dunphey scored fourth-period goals for the Rams.
"We knew we were going to take a couple of punches to the jaw later in the game," Lipositz said. "But we wanted to prove that we could play with them, and I think we did that."
Contact David Weinberg:
Southern 1 1 0 2-4
Ridge 0 5 5 2-12
Goals - Manzo, Mullen, Smith, Dunphey S; Scott (4), Malloy (2), Gaydos (2), Palladino, Burckley, Abbiatici, Quigley R.
Goalies-Jones (2) R; Lefanto (6) S.
RECORDS-Southern 18-2; Ridge 19-3