Mariners Thwart Dominating Effort by Southern Regional Field Hockey Team
Sometimes, a team dominating a game doesn’t mean it’s going to win. Exhibit A: the Southern Regional High School field hockey team’s Shore Conference Class A South contest against Toms River North on Oct. 15. The Rams controlled much of the play within large chunks of time, outshot the Mariners, 10-2, and had double the number of corner opportunities. But instead of a victory and capturing the A South division title, the Rams fell victim to a couple of breaks for the Mariners and lost, 2-1.
“They got lucky, but you’ve got to give them the credit for putting the ball in the cage on their two chances,” said Southern coach Jenna Lombardo, whose Rams rebounded from the heartbreaking defeat to oust Central Regional from the Shore Conference Tournament with a 3-1 win on Oct. 18.
“We dominated this game. It’s frustrating. We played our best game of the season in every way possible, except for getting four or five more goals. North’s goaltender saved their butts.”
Indeed Gabby Gibson did. The North goalie was outstanding in front of the cage, stopping multiple shots with big saves during both halves, including several during the final 15 minutes.
After Mia Porter gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead – when she took a wild swing at a loose ball rolling away from her and it hopped over a defender’s stick and into the cage about four minutes into the game – the Rams answered back somewhat quickly when McKenna Ferrara slipped a pass through the defense to Brooke Little, who was waiting near the right post and buried the tying goal with 21:07 to go in the first half.
During the last 15 minutes of the first, Southern carried the play, pressuring the North defense in its end for minutes at a time. With just over 13 minutes left in the half, the Rams put a shot on goal during a flurry in front of the cage, but Gibson turned it away. With 35 seconds left, Katlin Conroy smashed a solid shot from 13 yards that was heading for the near post, but Gibson sprawled to kick it aside.
In the second half, Southern and North played a bit of back-and-forth near midfield for a while before the Rams started inching forward and again pressuring the Mariners’ defense. Eventually, Southern carried most of the play within the North end of the field, again developing several good scoring chances.
After Conroy blasted a shot from 15 yards that skipped wide by a foot, Maitland Demand whacked a ball toward goal with 12:45 to go; Ferrara then found herself with the ball and only Gibson to beat a half-dozen yards from goal. Gibson came out on Ferrara, who whacked at the ball three times but couldn’t manage to slip the ball past Gibson’s goalie pads before play turned the other way.
A half-minute later, Kelly Fontana got off a shot from the middle of the circle about 10 yards away, but Gibson got her blocker on it, and the rebound was cleared by the North defense. With just over 10 minutes to go, Little fired a low shot from the right side of the circle, and Gibson kicked it aside with a lunging effort.
As play turned in the opposite direction, a clearing attempt by the Mariners’ defense ended up skipping over a Southern midfielder’s stick and down the right side of the field, where Brittney Szigeti ran onto the ball and most of the Rams’ defenders were trailing her. Szigeti got by the last defender and broke in on Southern goaltender Kaitlyn Spazchak, who came out to challenge the North forward.
Unfortunately, Szigeti was able to poke the ball past Spazchak and into the cage with 9:36 left, setting off an eruption from the North bench. Southern managed three more corners, including one with 23 seconds left, during the final nine minutes but couldn’t get the equalizer.
“Two shots. That’s all we gave up,” Lombardo said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Our defense played great. Lauryn Flynn totally shut down their best winger. I can’t be mad about our effort today. It’s just one of those days when they got a couple of breaks and the goalie had an amazing game.”
Earlier in the week, Southern (10-3-2) crushed Brick, 6-0, on Oct. 10, then defeated Central, 2-0, the next day, and bounced Brick Memorial, 4-1, on Oct. 13. As a result, the Rams were awarded the sixth seed for the SCT.
And while Lombardo believed her crew had enough ability to reach the final, that road was not going to be an easy one, as Central, the 11th seed for the tourney, proved on Tuesday, Oct. 18. The Golden Eagles took on the Rams for a second time in a week and scored a 2-1, double-overtime victory to advance.
After each team scored second-half goals to carry a 1-1 deadlock into the first overtime, the first 10-minute extra session yielded nothing. But Central scored about four minutes into the second overtime period to send the Rams out of the SCT.
Now, with the NJSIAA sectional tournament also right around the corner – and South Group IV is a brutal group – Lombardo is happy with how this season has shaped up so far.
“This team has done more than I expected,” she said. “We lost 12 seniors, and the girls on this team stepped up instantly. They have come together and really played as a complete team. I’m very proud of these girls.”
— David Biggy