To say that Chuck Apel's 400th career victory was an outstanding example of his teaching and leadership would be practically an insult to the Panthers' effort.
This was darn near perfect.
Scott Bieda and Ryan Hollingsworth powered a quick-moving, well-balanced offense with four goals apiece and Evan Mock and Connor Murphy anchored an impeccable defensive outing that sent Bridgewater-Raritan, No. 1 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Power Rankings, to a 14-0 win over Immaculata Saturday in a Skyland Conference battle in Somerville.
With that, Apel, now 400-180, became the state's fourth coach to reach the milestone, joining Tim Flynn (543 wins) of Mountain Lakes and Chuck Ruebling (410) of Delbarton--both of whom are active--and former coach Steve Jacobson, who racked up most of his 426 victories at Ridgewood.
"It's nice, but it just represents a lot of work by the kids who've played here," Apel said. "You've got to have good people around you, and I have. I've had great coaches and there have been some great families that have come through here. It makes it real special."
So appropriate, too, that Apel notched No. 400 with such a magnificent defensive display by Mock, Connor Murphy, Andrew Hengenmuhle, Jared Kaden, Joe Carroll and shorticks Steve Danyluk and Kyle Coulter.
Apel was an all-state defender for East Meadow High on Long Island, All-America at that position at Rutgers and the warden of Bridgewater's defensive unit since the start of the program (then Bridgewater East) in 1980.
"He's always the toughest on the defense, I think," Mock said. "He doesn't stand for any garbage goals. He doesn't want any goals given up at all. In practice he's always the one working with us individually, one-on-ones, team defense, and it really pays off."
Apel's stingy defense pitched a shutout 10 days earlier in an 8-0 win over a talented Moorestown squad. The difference was starting goalie Zach Jones was forced to work hard that day with eight saves. In this game he did not face a shot on goal for the three quarters in which he played. Backup Tom Gardner halted two shots in the fourth to preserve the shutout.
"It shows how hard the kids work on defense. They really do work hard on their game," Apel said. "They're very cohesive. There's good individual talent here, but they really play well together. They talk and communicate real well and have really developed into an outstanding group."
That matches the skill and work rate of the Panthers' lethal offense, which had quick and decisive answers for anything Immaculata presented. Against man-to-man, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 5:16 behind goals from John Longordo, Mastroianni and Hollingsworth. When Immaculata switched to a zone, Bridgewater's offense was even more impressive.
"As soon as they went into zone, the ball was just moving," Bieda said. "Everyone was just cutting and moving the ball and no one cared who scored. It was just great offense."
Bieda scored two goals and recorded all of his three assists and Hollingsworth netted all four of his goals to steer the Panthers to an 8-0 lead at the half. Bieda sank the first two goals of the third quarter and Hollingsworth added two assists later in the period as the lead ballooned to 13-0.
"It's movement. That's what coach has been stressing to us," Mastroianni said. "In the past couple games we were a little sloppy and just kind of throwing the ball around, not moving our feet. Coach stresses that if we move the ball and create space, no one can really stop us. We're our own worst enemy."
Just for clarification, those so-called "sloppy' games Mastroianni referred to, were victories over Montgomery, 9-3, and Pingry, 11-4. The Panthers have now outscored opponents by an average score of 12-3.
But Mastroianni's point is well taken. What makes this group so special is its quick acceptance of criticism and desire to constantly improve. Bridgewater spun off 15 consecutive wins last year to capture the Tournament of Champions crown and yet entered 2012 wanting to somehow be better.
"This year is this year, last year was last year," Mastroianni said. "We've just got to keep working hard. Practice every day is intense. We go against each other hard every day in practice, getting each other better. That competition is what it's all about."
Allen Kurdyla, a 1993 Bridgewater graduate and a coach under Apel for the last 15 years, recalls vividly those fierce practice sessions of his playing days. But Kurdyla says that as driven as Apel has always been to shape a successful product, the desire to promote winning human qualities is far stronger.
"He wants to win, but it's also about being a good man. That's what matters to him," Kurdyla said. "Take good care of your teammates, take good care of your family, be a good person.
"What he's done for the program and also what he's done for the town is just incredible," Kurdyla said. "He cares about the guys and he just gives and gives. He stresses having great character and doing the right thing. He loves to win, but when it comes to teaching, winning matters the least to him."
This milestone victory may sit a little higher on Apel's priority list just because of the Panthers' sheer domination. They unloaded 53 shots to Immaculata's 11 and won the ground ball battle, 37-15.
"We moved the ball very well and our defense has been playing lights out," Bieda said. "When we're playing like this, it's tough to beat us. I can make a mistake and I know my defense will have my back. It's a great feeling as an attackman to know that no matter what, we're getting the ball back and we'll have another chance."
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS