Southern Field Hockey Team Reaches Conference Tournament Semifinals

Oct 25, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Southern’s Katlin Conroy sends a shot on goal during the Rams’ 4-0 victory over Wall in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Oct. 21.

It took the Southern Regional field hockey team about 16 minutes to get its motor running on Oct. 21, but eventually the Rams kicked into high gear and Wall Township had no answer.

“I loved it,” said senior goaltender Maddie Leyh, who needed just three saves to score the shutout, as the Rams ousted the Crimson Knights, 4-0, during the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. “Our defense has really stepped it up this season, and our offense is awesome. Yeah, it gets boring down there, when we’re playing most of the game in the other team’s end, but the less I touch the ball the better. I’m fine with that. I’d rather the offense have the ball more than me.”

Except for a few minutes during the first 10 minutes of the first half and a brief spurt during the waning minutes of the second half, Southern controlled the action. Wall pressed the Rams’ defense early, taking the ball deep into their territory and getting off a couple of shots and working a couple of corners, but Southern didn’t crack.

About 11 minutes into the contest, the Rams started asserting themselves more in the midfield and gradually brought their pressure forward, all but pinning the Crimson Knights in their own end for most of the last 15 minutes of the half. With 13:47 left, the Rams got on the scoreboard when senior Katlin Conroy took a restart and sent a diagonal pass through the defense toward the left side of the 16-yard arc, where senior Sam Minafo corralled the pass and fired a wrist shot past opposing goalie Mia Kepler from 7 yards away, giving Southern a 1-0 lead.

The one-goal lead didn’t last long, as the Rams (19-1) continued to hammer the Wall defense. Just three minutes later, sophomore Erika Barbera took a pass and fired the ball straight on goal from the slot, about 8 yards out. Kepler made the initial save but left the rebound off the left post, where Minafo banged it into the cage for a 2-0 advantage.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our passing this season,” Conroy said. “Everybody thought this was a rebuilding season for us, but there’s no way this was a rebuilding season. We always have girls who step up and play well, and this season’s been no different. We played really well on offense today.”

That didn’t change in the second. During the first few minutes, Southern continued pressuring the Wall defense and just over five minutes in struck again. After defender Priscilla Nicolini made a nice play to gain possession near the left sideline, she moved the ball forward and it eventually found its way to Barbera, who was hanging just inside the arc. Barbera played the ball, worked it in deep and got past the goalie, who had come out to break up Barbera’s momentum and take away a good shooting angle. Barbera shot the ball on goal but it was blocked by a defender. However, junior Alexis Maul was there to swat it into the cage.

The Rams didn’t relax, though. They kept coming at the Crimson Knights and sent several shots toward the cage and earned multiple corners during the next 10 minutes. With 14:13 left in the game, Conroy fired a hard shot from the top of the arc, and the waist-high screamer was deflected down by Barbera. The ball squirted past Kepler into the left corner of the goal for a 4-0 lead.

At that point, the offense began to sit back a little as the clock ticked. Still, Southern’s defense, led by junior center-back Emma Wilhelm, didn’t allow much to the Crimson Knights, keeping the ball clear of the front of the goal except for one final shot on Leyh with a few minutes left.

“We really worked well together today and communicated a lot,” Wilhelm said. “For us, this was a reloading season. And this, today, was us proving ourselves to everyone and the entire Shore Conference.”

The victory sent Southern into the SCT semifinals for the first time in well over a decade – not since former stars Caitlyn Young and Brittany Angellella roamed the field under Kathy Snyder. The third-seeded Rams were set to face off against second-seeded Shore Regional (17-1) on Wednesday, Oct. 25, with the winner moving on to Saturday’s championship, most likely to meet top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven (15-2), which routed Pinelands Regional, 10-2, in their quarterfinals contest on Oct. 21.

“I honestly believe we can beat Shore if we play like we played today,” Wilhelm said. “We’re going to be really pumped for that game. We’re going to be ready to play. Our communication has elevated and our passing has been a lot better the past few weeks. We’ve bonded more as well, and that has made us better overall.”

The last time the Rams and Blue Devils met up was five weeks ago, in a game that was scoreless during the first half and ultimately won by Shore, 2-1. Both Shore and Southern have dominated their opponents this season. Of course, the Rams’ loss to the Blue Devils is their only one of the season. Shore’s only loss came against state power Oak Knoll, 4-3, on Oct. 7.

Last week, on Oct. 18, the Rams wrapped up a perfect divisional schedule (14-0) with a 4-2 win over Toms River North, a day after cruising past Henry Hudson, 4-0, in the SCT second round.

“Everybody just gives 100 percent, even the girls on the bench,” Conroy said. “This is a family and we play every game as a family. For all the seniors, we definitely wanted to go out with a bang. And so far, it’s been great. The work we put in during the offseason was crazy, and we’ve been working hard every day since then. Everybody’s given 100 percent and it shows. But it’s not over.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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