Saturday, November 8, 2014

Field hockey: Newton ends sectional title drought

NEWTON -- Hold that line is usually reserved for football, but Newton's field hockey team did exactly that on Saturday.

Nursing a one-goal lead, junior sweeper Jordan Coiro made a great goal-line save to help the top-seeded Braves secure a 1-0 victory over No. 3 Kittatinny in the North 1, Group 1 final on the turf at Palmer Field.

Newton (13-5-5) claims its Sussex-County record ninth sectional title and first since 1986, while becoming the first team in the county to win a championship since 2006. It's also the first title for longtime coach Lisa Bechtel, now in her 25th season in charge of the Braves, who advance to face state power Shore Regional -- a 3-2 winner over Bernards in the North 2 final -- in the Group 2 semifinals 4 p.m. on Wednesday at A.L. Johnson High School.

Collingswood faces Woodstown in the other semifinal on Wednesday. The winners will play for the Group 1 title at Bordentown High School on Saturday, Nov. 15.

"I'm feeling incredibly proud of these kids," Bechtel said while clutching the championship trophy. "Kittatinny beat us twice [2-0 and 3-1 during the regular season] and it's very difficult to beat a team three times."

 Kittatinny (15-7-1), coming off a 2-1 upset-win over No. 2 seed Lenape Valley in the semifinals, entered this one riding a four-game win streak over Newton dating to last season. The Cougars had been red-hot on offense, scoring 22 goals in it last four games entering the final. Meanwhile, the Braves, who have posted shutouts in their last six games since the 3-1 loss to Kittatinny on Oct. 22, had scored a total of 32 goals all season coming in.

Second-year coach Emily Murray's Cougars pressed the action for almost the entire second half, finishing with a 12-3 edge in penalty corners, including a 9-0 advantage in the final 30 minutes. But Newton's defense held tough in its own circle -- keeping Kittatinny forwards Alexis Ambrosino (20 goals) and Holly Reznik (18 goals overall and nine in the previous four games) at bay -- while Coiro turned in the defensive play of the game midway through the second half.

Kittatinny was knocking on the door and missed a golden chance to tie the game when a shot slipped past Newton senior goalie Jenna Zawislak (five saves) at the left post. But Coiro alertly knocked the ball down with her stick right near the goal-line.

"Our defense has been through a lot, but we pushed through," said Coiro, who was sidelined for five weeks with a concussion sustained earlier this season. "It's like our whole season, I wanted [the save] and I got it. My teammates did the job when I was gone, and thank God, they did."

"I thought this was the best defensive game we played all year," said Bechtel, now 361-130-16 overall.

Bechtel, who nearly crossed midfield a few times on the sideline in the final minutes while employing her team to get back on defense, said switching Coiro from the midfield to sweeper when she came back from the concussion proved to be a great boost. The Braves have yielded just 25 goals this season to go with 11 shutouts.

"She's been key for us. She's very poised and calm back there," Bechtel said. "She made the difference in the game."

Sophomore Natalie Rivas got Newton on the board off a penalty corner with 17:10 left before halftime -- her team-leading 11th of the season. Rivas received the insert pass at the top of the circle and blasted a shot that rolled right through the legs of Kittatinny goalie Julia Pevarnik and into the right corner of the cage.

"I felt really confident [on the corner]. We practice that one all the time," Rivas said. "We're young [eight sophomores and one freshman on the roster] but it doesn't matter if you're a senior or a freshman. You can still win and work as a team."

"That was a huge momentum builder scoring in the first half," Bechtel said. "We came out on fire and were very aggressive to the ball. Natalie had a strong shot on the corner and that was incredibly important heading into halftime."

Rivas and her teammates were proud to deliver Newton's first sectional title in 28 years and the first for Bechtel, yet they were surprised to be hoisting the trophy.

"I'm really happy. I was really nervous going into the game," Rivas said. "We wanted to win this so badly for coach Bechtel."

"Field hockey is the only sport I play. I also do dance, but there's no such thing as playing for a state championship," Zawislak said. "I never thought this would be possible."

Kittatinny (15-7-1)                     0                  0              --    0
Newton (13-5-5)                        1                  0              --    1


First half -- N, Natalie Rivas, 11th, (Hannah Ervey), 17:10.

Shots -- Kittatinny 5; Newton 2.

Saves -- Julia Pevarnik 1 (K); Jenna Zawislak 4, Jordan Coiro 1 (defensive) (N).

Penalty corners -- Kittatinny 12; Newton 3.

North 2, Group 2

Summit 1, Voorhees 0 OT -- Allison Daney scored the winning goal off  a feed from Megan Ophel as the No. 3 seeded Hilltoppers (14-8-1) advanced to the Group 2 semifinals to face North 1 champion Madison on Wednesday. Goalie Lauren Pianucci made five saves for the Vikings (20-2-2), who were playing in their first sectional final since 2010.

Voorhees, which had won six of its last seven games, including four shutouts, was seeking its seventh sectional title and first since 2006. Junior forward Kathryn Roncoroni ends the finest offensive season in school history with single-season records for goals with 44 and points 104. She's also the Vikes' career leader in both categories with 89 and 203.

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