BY ANDREW GARDA
It was about time for a close game to break Montclair High School’s way.
This season, the No. 4-seeded MHS girls lacrosse team (7-10, 2-3 NJIGLL – Stars & Stripes North) has been on the wrong side of one-goal losses seven times.
That all changed Saturday, June 5, when they beat No. 5 seed Bridgewater-Raritan (12-4, 5-0 Skyland – Delaware) 15-14 in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA North Jersey, Group 4 Tournament.
“We kept saying to the girls this week that, obviously with regular season play done, it’s a new chapter, it’s a new season, and everything that happened for the last two months happened for a reason,” said head coach Kim Kolodny. “And now we’ve been through it, we know what to expect, and if we get back into that situation, now we step up and now we finish. That’s exactly what happened today.”
The difference-maker was scored by Lauren Morganlander — her third of the day — with under 20 seconds left.
The Panthers rallied and pressed the Mounties’ defense until the last buzzer — including a reset-clock to put an extra two seconds back on — but the defense held, and goalie Talia Cohen-Vigder stood tall in the net as MHS preserved the win.
The game was a back-and-forth affair from the beginning, with the two teams trading goals early and often. The Mounties would beat Panthers goalie Gia Mitchell for a goal, then Bridgewater-Raritan would turn around and score twice on Montclair, which would then tie the game in the next minute.
The Mounties eventually surged ahead near the end of the first half, scoring three times to lock down a 10-7 lead heading into the break.
Bridgewater-Raritan came out of halftime hot, though, and soon regained the lead. Montclair clawed back into the game, taking the lead again at the 14:44 mark, then the two teams traded goals again. The Panthers called a timeout with 49 seconds left in regulation and the ball in MHS’ end.
Whatever they said in the huddle, it worked, as four seconds later they tied the game with a shot past Cohen-Vigder.
Both teams had chances to break the tie after that, but it was Morganlander who found the back of the net to regain the lead for Montclair.
Then the Panthers had their final chances, and came up empty.
The key for Montclair at the end was to understand that the game wasn’t over and they had to remain focused.
Kolodny said those last moments were where past losses became valuable.
“We’ve had so many games where that has happened to us [losing focus], so we’ve learned, we’ve adjusted, and we’ve worked out some things,” she said. “We’ve figured it out. So clearly today, everything came together.”
Koldoney said that the end of the game was where the learned lessons were most evident.
“There were 45 seconds left, we got that ball up, we were nice and controlled, we stayed calm and we finished,” she said. “They played awesome to the very, very last second.”
Now the Mounties have a quick turnaround before heading to Ridgewood to take on the top-seeded Maroons at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 8.
It’s an opportunity for the Mounties to show they’ve learned from those one-goal losses — especially since Ridgewood gave MHS one of them with a 9-8 loss back on April 21, the second week of this season.
“Last time we played them, we lost by one in overtime,” Kolodny said. “We’re going to look at that film, we’re going to look at other film from Ridgewood, and hopefully we can take this momentum and this energy and put it into play on Tuesday.”
The short turnaround isn’t anything new — most lacrosse teams have had a game, followed by a practice, and another game right after.
“We’ve always said to the girls, especially right now, enjoy it,” Kolodny said. “Live in the moment, enjoy the win tonight, and tomorrow we’re right back to work. We’re right back to business, to compete and hopefully get revenge on Ridgewood come Tuesday.”