Sunday, November 18, 2012

Field hockey: Streaks fall short in Group 3 title game

Seven wasn't the lucky number necessary to break the state final curse.

For Warren Hills' field hockey team, the quest for that elusive championship goes on as the Blue Streaks dropped a 2-0 decision to nemesis Ocean City on Sunday in the NJSIAA Group 3 title game at Lions Stadium on the campus of The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.

Warren Hills (22-3), which matched the 2011 team for the school's wins record, is now 0-7 all time in the state finals -- losing four of those to Ocean City. The Red Raiders (21-1), who won their seventh title and first since 2009, also beat the Streaks here in 1999 and 2001, and in '09 at Toms River East. Warren Hills is now 0-6 at TCNJ -- also falling to West Deptford (2-1 in 1997), Cumberland (1-0 in 2000) and Moorestown (2-1 in OT in 2003) at Lions Stadium. This was the first title game decided by a greater than one-goal margin.

"We just didn't play our passing game today," said Warren Hills coach Laurie Kerr, now 0-5 in state finals. "We couldn't penetrate against [a stout Ocean City defense]. We were forcing way too many passes and we couldn't generate that attack that we're used to."

The game also marked the end of a fabulous career for senior forward Niki Miller, the Streaks' single-season assists and points leader, as well as their career assists record holder. Miller, a UMass recruit, finishes the season with 25 goals and 29 assists -- good for 79 points. She ranks second all time with 61 goals and 179 points to go with her record 57 assists.

Miller was held without a goal or an assist for only the fourth time this season -- three of those resulted in losses. Voorhees was the only other team to shut out Warren Hills -- 2-0 in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals on Oct. 20.

"It was really hard to play center forward in this game -- they stopped what we usually do [offensively]," said Miller, a class act who was extremely gracious in defeat. "We couldn't get [the ball] through [the OC defense] and we didn't take the opportunity to go around. We were very off of our game today."

Credit the Ocean City defense for holding a potent Warren Hills offense in check. The Red Raiders cut the Streaks off on just about every pass, clogged the lanes and won most of the 50/50 balls. The Streaks were held to just one shot on goal -- by Miller early in the game -- and just five penalty corners.

Kerr was miffed about the lack of offense, given that her unit scored a total of 19 goals in the previous four postseason games. Sophomores Nikki Profita, Sydney Muntone and Jessica Nissen combined for 54 goals this season.

"We didn't have any shots in the second half, which stuns me the most," Kerr said. "Even [Miller] couldn't get her proper dodge going. We didn't get any momentum and flow established. We were so offensive-minded and hungry all season. It seemed like we looked around today and waited for someone else to get it done. We didn't do it as a team. I'm really surprised we didn't score."

The game was a defensive struggle and scoreless at the break, despite Ocean City nearly dominating most of the first half and getting opportunities on five corners in the final eight minutes.

Midway through the second half, the Red Raiders finally got on the board and seized control for good. Sophomore Lauren McNally followed up her own rebound on the team's fifth corner of the half to break the tie and freshman reserve Jordan Allegretto delivered a dagger to make it a two-goal margin with 9:37 to go after a nice reverse-stick pass in the circle set her up.

Miller felt that the Streaks were still OK down 1-0, but that second goal was just too much to overcome.

"If we just could have held them off for a few more minutes ... we had some breakdowns," she said. "We couldn't get it back once it was 2-0."

The Warren Hills defense, which had been very leaky this postseason, actually kept the Streaks in the game. Senior goalie Katie Wintersteen made several tremendous stops, including one on a corner early in the first half and another by coming way up in the circle, and played very well in her final game.

But the Streaks are left searching for answers that will help end their title drought. Miller offered some insight for future teams to benefit from.

"We seemed to psych ourselves out since no [Warren Hills team] has done it," said Miller, who was a freshman on the 2009 team that lost to OC. "I thought we definitely could do it this year. I felt we were more confident [than 2009]. [Ocean City] was what I thought they were. I don't think they were the best team we played this year. We played Bridgewater [a 9-2 loser to Eastern in the Group 4 final] and we scrimmaged [Group 1 champion] Oak Knoll. Chatham [who the Streaks beat 6-3 in the North 2, Group 3 sectional semis] was a very good team too."

Ocean City, which returns seven starters, and a sophomore-laden Warren Hills will be among the favorites to get here again in 2013.

Warren Hills (22-3)                 0                   0             --   0
Ocean City (21-1)                   0                   2             --   2


Second half -- OC, Lauren McNally, 18th, 15:53; OC, Jordan Allegretto, 9th, 9:37.

Shots -- Warren Hills 1; Ocean City 10.

Saves -- Katie Wintersteen 7, Stephanie Collins 1 (defensive) (WH); Katie Johnson 1 (OC).

Penalty corners -- Warren Hills 5; Ocean City 13.

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