BY ANDREW GARDA
The Montclair High School field hockey team fought hard but couldn’t overcome a tough Phillipsburg team during its NJSIAA North Jersey Group 4 semifinal match, falling 4-3.
“We played really well, but just came up a little short,” MHS head coach Mary Pat Mercuro said after the loss on Friday.
The back-and-forth game was between two opponents that each played in tough divisions against the top teams in New Jersey. Because of that, Montclair’s 4 seed and Phillipsburg’s 9 seed were not as far apart as they might have seemed.
As that was the case, the two teams went up and down the field, moving the ball effectively while also playing good defense.
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The Liners (12-9, 3-5 in Skyland – Raritan) scored first, as Avery Ritt put a ball past Isabel Ginns for one of three goals she scored.
Montclair (16-5, 2-3 Essex/Union – Red) responded, though, and with just under nine minutes left in the first quarter, Julia Magaldi beat Liners goalie Beth Kelly to even things up.
A little while later, Phillipsburg scored again to make it 2-1, but Phoebe Campbell would tie it again. The goal came off a corner, with MHS doing a little bit of misdirection, with one player faking a shot before Campbell took her own and scored with just under two minutes left in the first quarter.
“My girls answered back every time they scored,” Mercuro said after the game.
Both teams moved the ball well and played solid defense the whole half, with Montclair finally getting a lead with just two minutes left in the half, Ella Baschwitz giving them the advantage.
Baschwitz had actually destroyed a ball earlier in the half, as her swing shattered it into several pieces. This time the ball stayed in one piece as it sailed past Kelly for the score.
Unfortunately, it was the Liners who answered back then, as they tied the game with 1:19 left in the half.
The two teams would head into halftime tied, and when play resumed neither side was able to break through the other’s defense. During the few moments where the Liners or Mounties were able to break through, Ginns and Kelly were there to make the save.
All it takes is one slip, though, and a game can be lost. With 8:50 left in regulation, Montclair couldn’t clear the ball from the front of the net, and the Liners’ Ritt sent her third goal of the day past Ginns.
Despite allowing that goal, Ginns continued the spectacular play that was the difference in so many wins for Montclair, most notably on a penalty stroke not long after Phillipsburg’s fourth goal.
The shot was low and to her right, but Ginns deflected it and made the save.
“She’s very good at that,” Mercuro said.
After the save, the coach felt momentum shift in Montclair’s favor, and the Mounties were able to get multiple offensive charges into the Liners’ end.
“Once I saw [the save] I felt like it was going to go our way,” Mercuro said.
Unfortunately, the Liners rallied and held Montclair off.
“They just stepped up, too,” Mercuro said. “It’s the beauty of sports. You got two equal teams battling, and it’s exciting.”
The end of a season is always sad, especially when it comes with a loss to finish it, and this was especially heartbreaking for a team with 15 seniors, a massive number for a team like field hockey.
Mercuro was proud of her group, and while they fell short of a title, she knew they had given it everything they had.
“We’ve been down this year but we came back,” she said. “You know, I’m not retiring, but if I were to, I could with this year. It was very fulfilling, and these kids inspired me every day. We came back in overtime games. I mean, this team, the seniors and the chemistry they had was unbelievable.”
Mercuro said the team beat the teams they were supposed to win against and challenged the ones that were favored against them, never backing down and always leaving their opponents knowing they’d faced a very good Mounties team.
Unfortunately, Mercuro felt the season took its toll on Montclair, including a rash of colds over the last few weeks that wore some of the players down.
“We were just a little flat today. We’ve been playing with some sicknesses, a lot of kids out there today played with sore throats and colds,” the coach said.
“And they left it all on the field. What more can you ask from these kids? I’m proud of them. That’s all I can say.”