It's getting down to crunch time in the field hockey season. With Phillipsburg's loss and Hunterdon Central's win on Friday, the Open Mike area is down to four teams still vying for sectional championships.
Here's a look at Saturday's semifinal schedule involving three locals:
North 1, Group 3
4-Northern Highlands (15-4-2) at 1-High Point (19-1)
Skinny: Coach Bev Keur's Wildcats have rebounded nicely from a 3-1 loss to Warren Hills in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final on Oct. 22, winning four straight including a 3-0 win over No. 8 Montville in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Northern Highlands, seeking its seventh sectional title and first since 1993, beat Vernon, 4-3, in the quarters. High Point defeated Vernon twice this year, 6-1 and 2-1. Forwards Nikki Hull (108 points) and Darby Smith (107) are closing in on the school record of 112.
Other semifinal matchup: 3-Wayne Hills (16-4-1) at 2-West Milford (18-1).
Players to watch: NH -- So. F Lauren O'Keefe (16 goals, 4 assists), Sr. MF Meghan Weiss (15 goals, 13 assists), Sr. F Catherine Peebles (12 goals, 11 assists). HP -- Sr. F Nikki Hull (18 goals, 13 assists), Jr. F Darby Smith (24 goals), Sr. F Brittany Papa (14 goals), Sr. D Bea Cannavale (8 goals, 7 assists).
Interesting fact: High Point is seeking its sixth title and first since 2002. No Sussex County school has won a championship since Wallkill Valley claimed the North 1, Group 2 crown in 2006.
Prediction: The hosts are too well-balanced and extremely battle-tested this season and that will be the difference in this one. High Point, 3-1.
North 2, Group 3
3-Warren Hills (21-2) at 2-Hopewell Valley (17-1)
Skinny: There isn't a hotter team around right now than the Blue Streaks, who have won 11 in a row since a 2-1 loss in overtime against Voorhees on Oct. 6. Since then, Warren Hills has outscored opponents, 60-7, during the current winning streak and has yielded just one goal in two playoff wins (Mendham, 8-1, and Ocean Township, 6-0) while reaching the semis for the sixth straight year. There's also the extra motivation of a loss in this round to Hopewell Valley a year ago, decided on penalty strokes. The Mercer County school, which is seeking its first title since 1988, lost its first game on Monday, 4-3 to Lawrenceville in the county final.
Other semifinal matchup: 4-West Morris (18-2) at 1-Freehold Borough (18-1).
Players to watch: WH -- Sr. F Lindsey Schott (27 goals, 16 assists), Jr. MF Niki Miller (22 goals, 12 assists), Sr. MF Whitney Kowski (8 goals, 10 assists), Sr. F Kayla Grater (14 goals), Sr. D Jen Hylkema. HV -- Sr. F Alicia Wagner, (37 goals, 8 assists), Jr. F Colby Hussong (12 goals, 18 assists), Sr. F Grace McCabe (13 goals).
Interesting fact: Warren Hills is 53-35 all-time in postseason games dating to 1972, including a 10-2 mark against Mercer County schools. Besides last year's loss to Hopewell Valley, the only other loss to a Mercer team was 3-0 to Princeton in the program's very first state playoff game in 1972.
Prediction: The Blue Streaks are on a major roll right now and would love to avenge last year's loss in the semifinals. The key will be not looking ahead to a potential showdown with Freehold, the defending section and Group 3 champion, in a much-anticipated final. Again, caliber of competition plays a big factor in this one. Warren Hills, 4-0.
North 2, Group 2
4-Voorhees (14-3) at 1-Johnson (17-4)
Skinny: Rematch of last year's final won by Johnson, 2-1 in double overtime. The game had to be played over two days due to poor weather and field conditions at Voorhees and was coach Beth Stocker's final game. First-year coach Taylor Webb has the Vikings primed for another title run, seeking the Hunterdon County program's seventh championship and first since reaching the Group 3 final in 2006. Johnson, which lost to West Essex in last year's Group 2 semis, is gunning for its third title overall after winning its first in 2008 under coach Katrina Anderson.
Other semifinal matchup: 7-St. John Vianney (12-6-1) at 3-Rumson (13-4-1).
Players to watch: V -- Sr. F Antoinette Metzler (12 goals), Sr. F Kat Francis (7 goals), Sr. F Taylor Irving (11 goals, 7 assists), GK Kimmie Pianucci (9 shutouts). J -- Sr. F Nicole Imbriaco (30 goals, 19 assists), Sr. F Amanda Wnorowski (13 goals, 8 assists), F Margaret Sinnicke (12 goals), GK Becky Brattole (12 shutouts).
Interesting fact: Voorhees is 51-30 all-time in postseason games since the program's inception in 1975. The Vikes also have 537 overall wins during that span.
Prediction: No disrespect to the teams in the bottom bracket, but this should be the final. Johnson has the best player on the field in Imbriaco, who assisted on the winning goal in last year's final. Brattole is also a very good goalie. However, the Vikings play great defense having held opponents to a collective 10 goals this season in 17 games. Pianucci is one of the top keepers in the state and is tough to get one in on. Voorhees will need to put a few goals in the cage and that's been a struggle this season. I'm making this one my upset special. Voorhees 2-1 OT.