Tuesday, November 8, 2011
NJSIAA: Wildcats' run ends in sectional final
High Point's field hockey team finished with the statistical edge in every category on Tuesday, except the only one that counts.
When it was all said and done, the top-seeded Wildcats came up short on the scoreboard, falling 2-1 to second-seeded West Milford in the North 1, Group 3 sectional final in Wantage.
High Point (20-2), seeking its first championship since 2002, finished with advantages in shots (19-6) and penalty corners (16-2), but couldn't make the most of its opportunities. It was the final game for eight seniors, who came up short for the second straight year in the title game -- losing 4-3 in overtime to West Morris in 2010.
"We never expected this, we thought we had it today and could go far [in the postseason]," said senior midfielder Sashal Hagan, who was outstanding for the 'Cats all season. "Having the season end today is the hardest thing I've had to deal with in quite awhile."
Instead it's West Milford (20-1) moving on to the Group 3 semifinals after claiming the program's second sectional crown and first since 1985. Coach Jill Cullen's Highlanders will meet North 2 and defending Group 3 champion Freehold Borough on Thursday for the right to play in Sunday's state title game at Toms River East.
The 1985 sectional title for West Milford was never won on the field because no other team qualified that season in the North 1, Group 4 bracket. So, this is actually the Passaic County school's first victory in a championship game.
"This is my seventh and last season [as head coach] and I said I wanted to go out with a bang," Cullen said. "I didn't know it would be this big of a bang, being Passiac County championss and winning the sectional title. We knew High Point was a good team, but I'm confident in my team."
A ton of credit for the victory goes to West Milford goalie Jenna Bednarovsky, who was sensational in the cage. The junior registered 18 saves, most of which were on point-blank shots sprinkled in with some amazing acrobatic stops as well. The defense fended off 11 penalty corners in the first half, which was completely dominated by the hosts for the first 20 minutes or so.
Regardless, the Highlanders led 2-0 on goals by seniors Samantha Browne and Stacie Csakvary.
Browne struck first on the team's first penalty corner with 6:44 left before halftime, positioned at the left post to receive a perfect pass from Deborah Wolfe for her team-leading 35th goal. Csakvary cashed in nearly four minutes later, redirecting a deflected shot into a wide-open cage.
"Our goalie saved our butts more than once," Cullen said. "This was probably the best game I've seen her play. She was very impressive today. We played a good defensive game in the first half. We were a little sluggish in warm-ups, so I was concerned."
Junior Darby Smith got High Point on the board about nine minutes into the second half with her team-leading 25th goal. It gave her 109 career points, leaving her three shy of the school record held by Lesley Dube (112). Senior forward Nikki Hull was credited with the assist, giving her a final career total of 109 points.
Down by one goal, the 'Cats kept pounding away with 11 shots in the final 30 minutes, but to no avail as the Highlanders fended off one last corner in the final seconds.
"[Bednarovsky] was great, she made some amazing clears," Hagan said. "Good for her. She's a good goalie."
Veteran High Point coach Bev Keur was obviously disappointed with the loss, but not the effort of her team.
"I think we prepared them well and they took some beautiful shots," said Keur, whose teams are 311-113-14 over three stints in 21 seasons. "I thought we made some good adjustments at halftime and put the pressure on. Their goalie did a great job, but we've got to finish. Those two quick goals blind-sided us."
The not-so-small feat of reaching consecutive sectional finals held little comfort for Keur and the seniors afterward.
"We would like to be back-to-back sectional champions," Keur said.
West Milford (20-1) 2 0 -- 2
High Point (20-2) 0 1 -- 1
First half -- WM, Samantha Browne, 35th, (Deborah Wolfe), 6:44; WM, Stacie Csakvary, 10th, (Nicolette Rich), 2:54.
Second half -- HP, Darby Smith, 25th, (Nikki Hull), 21:04.
Shots -- West Milford 6; High Point 19.
Saves -- Jenna Bednarovsky 18 (WM); Kelsey Stoll 2, Shannon Havens 1 (defensive), Kelsey Fleury 1 (defensive) (HP).
Penalty corners -- West Milford 2; High Point 16.
Posted by Mike Weilamann at 5:46 PM