Pinelands Regional Field Hockey Squad at Least Sharing B South Title Again

Oct 18, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands Regional’s Sarah Keady (3) prepares to celebrate with Brianna Suralik after Suralik scored the Wildcats’ first goal during a 3-2 loss to Point Pleasant Borough on Oct. 12.

During each of the past two Octobers, the Pinelands Regional field hockey team had found itself in the thick of a Shore Conference Class B South division title hunt and managed to grab at least a share of the crown. Two years ago, the Wildcats shared the title with Jackson Liberty, and last year knocked off Jackson Liberty to win it outright.

On Oct. 12, coach Liz Law’s squad was in a similar position – defeat Point Pleasant Borough and win the title outright, or lose to the Panthers and possibly share the crown with them.

“We had many opportunities near the cage and just didn’t capitalize,” said senior forward Brianna Suralik, who scored both of Pinelands’ goals in a 3-2 loss, as the Wildcats at least have grabbed a share of the division title. “We needed to capitalize on a couple more of those chances. Obviously, a win would have been awesome, but we’re still tied for the title, and that’s good.”

No doubt, the Wildcats wanted to win the title outright and came out trying to pressure the Panthers’ defense. But during the first minute, Borough used solid ball movement through the midfield to take away the potential for any Pinelands offense and instead countered it, working the ball deep into the Wildcats’ end twice.

The second time proved costly when a Pinelands miscue inside its arc resulted in a penalty-stroke opportunity for Borough just 1:36 into the contest. Jordan Carr then delivered a beautiful wrist past senior goaltender Julia Kline, sending a shot high to the top-left corner of the goal, just underneath the crossbar.

“Strokes for goalies are very difficult,” Kline said. “They’re very difficult to stop, so it’s a big mental thing. But I tried my best to stop and missed. She made a great shot.”

The Wildcats responded well, taking the ball deep into Point Borough territory multiple times as the teams settled into a back-and-forth clash. Ultimately, though, the Panthers – at least temporarily – got the better of that clash, as they generated a bunch of traffic in front of the cage and Carr used a backhanded shot low to Kline’s left to stake Borough to a two-goal lead with 16:36 left in the first half.

At that point, Law took a timeout to rally her troops, and the move worked. The Wildcats (11-3) came roaring out of the timeout and immediately began putting more pressure on the defense, except this time the Panthers (14-1) were unable to neutralize it, and Pinelands’ scoring opportunities continued to mount during the last 14 minutes of the half.

Eventually, Pinelands broke through the defense, when Suralik stole the ball from a Borough defender just inside the arc, used some fancy stickwork to work her way through the heart of the defense and backhanded a shot from about 10 yards away into the right side of the cage with 9:30 left in the half.

The Wildcats continued to build on that fire from Suralik and spent most of the next nine minutes in the Panthers’ half of the field, peppering opposing goalie Carson Swisher with multiple shots while others just missed going on goal. As time ran out on the first half, a defense infraction led to a Pinelands corner. Suralik again came through, receiving the corner, working her way past several defenders before ripping off a big, sweeping wrist shot from 10 yards away. The ball clanged off Swisher’s stick and into the cage, tying the game 2-2 at halftime.

“This was one of the last division games of my career, and I felt like it was needed to take charge,” Suralik said. “Everybody wanted this really bad, but my mindset was to get the ball into the back of the cage and get us back into the game.”

Unfortunately, after the break, the Panthers again seemed to steal the thunder Pinelands had generated, mainly by controlling the play in the midfield. Throughout most of the second half, the Wildcats didn’t gain many opportunities. In the meantime, the Panthers (14-1) scored once more, with 25:03 left, as Carr again used a backhanded shot in deep to send her crew ahead by a goal.

With a few minutes left in the contest, Pinelands developed a sense of urgency and gained the offensive zone several times, but managed to get only one more shot near the cage. One last corner chance with about a minute left was cleared out by the Borough defense.

“It’s better than nothing,” Kline said of possibly tying for the division title. “We put our hearts out there and did our best. Point Borough’s a really good team. We beat them last week, but they found a way to win today. Still, we’re winning B South in some way.”

The next day, Pinelands bounced back with an 8-1 rout against Lakewood, improving to 10-1 in the division with one more game against Lakewood slated for Thursday, Oct. 19. Another victory technically puts Pinelands in the position to still win the title outright, but then its hopes of doing so rest on Jackson Liberty knocking off Point Borough on Oct. 19. The Panthers beat Liberty, 7-2, a few weeks ago.

Nonetheless, the Wildcats have turned their focus to the postseason, as the Shore Conference Tournament got underway on Monday, Oct. 16. Pinelands, as the ninth seed, had to travel to play eighth-seeded Red Bank Catholic on the turf and came home with a 5-4 victory, as Kline made 14 saves and Suralik and Rachel Papernik each delivered two goals. Sarah Keady added another to help the Wildcats advance to the quarterfinals, where they will face top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven later this week.

“It’s great hockey when you play a team like Rumson,” Law said. “And I’m appreciative of having teams like Shore Regional (the No. 2 seed) on my regular-season schedule because we don’t want a soft schedule so we can go undefeated. I seek opportunities to learn and grow as players, and going up against great competition, like Rumson, is going to help them. We know anything can happen on any given day, but it’s just a great game to add to our schedule for the learning process, particularly for the younger players.”

— David Biggy

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