Sunday, November 16, 2014

Field hockey: Streaks claim G3 title in OT thriller

BORDENTOWN -- Warren Hills' field hockey team was intent on flipping the script this time around. And the Blue Streaks could not have drawn it up any better.

Senior back Amanda Crampton connected off a penalty corner with 4:38 left in sudden-victory overtime as Warren Hills ended its futility in the Group 3 final with a thrilling 5-4 win over nemesis Ocean City on Saturday at Bordentown Regional High School.

With the victory, Warren Hills (23-3) notched a new school record for wins in a season and its 601st overall, while collecting the first state championship in program history in its ninth finals appearance. It's also the first state team title in any female sport at the Warren County school, formerly Washington High School.

Warren Hills celebrates the G3 title. (Courtesy Michelle Pulsinelli Profita)
The season isn't over as Warren Hills drew the No. 2 seed for the five-team Tournament of Champions -- involving all Group winners -- that begins on Monday with the 4-5 game between Group 2 champ Rumson and Group 1 champ Shore at Rider University. The winner will face No. 1 Eastern, the Group 4 champion, in one semifinal on Wednesday, while the Blue Streaks will take on No. 3 Oak Knoll, the Non-Public champion. The final will be played on Friday.

"It feels like a dream," said Crampton, who fired the shot heard back to Washington that ended a five-game skid against Ocean City (22-2) in Group 3 finals dating to 1999. "This is the best feeling. It was our ninth time coming here, and we had lost five times to Ocean. This feels amazing."

Senior midfielder Nikki Profita notched her third assist of the game on that game-winner, while also scoring a game-tying goal that made it 3-3 with 16:43 left in the second half. Profita also took an important shot on Warren Hills' first corner in overtime that led to a second corner opportunity.

"I don't have words," said the Rutgers-bound Profita, who perhaps played the best game of her outstanding four-year career. "The execution was there on our corners. On overtime corners, we don't really risk it on low options."

For coach Laurie Kerr, the championship was especially emotional after going 0-6 in previous finals appearances in her 15 seasons. The former star player for the Streaks was so overcome after Crampton's goal that she collapsed on the turf in celebration.

"It's about time," Kerr said. "After Ocean City got the first corner in overtime, I turned to athletic trainer [Kevin Call] and said, 'I feel like a cat with more lives left.' From the first day of preseason, these girls wanted to repeat [the Group 3 final] against Ocean City, especially after losing [1-0] last year in double overtime. They remembered that. This is for every Warren Hills woman athlete and field hockey player."

Crampton received the ball at the right post with a defender in front of her. Rather than fire a rocket at the cage, the East Stroudsburg-bound Crampton opted to lift the ball over the defense and it found it's way home.

Turns out, it was the exact corner play that the Streaks had practiced the day before in preparation for the Group 3 final.

"I thought about driving at first, but I beat the [defender] and the goalie [Charity Beckert] was down," Crampton said. "If I shot it, the defense would have drawn in toward me. I wanted to end it."

The game had all the makings of a classic heavyweight battle, back-and-forth most of the way. Warren Hills, unlike in past years, drew first blood when junior midfielder Katie Thompson connected off a feed from Profita on the Streaks' second corner with 22:16 left in the first half.

That goal sparked a string of three straight penalty strokes -- two converted successfully by talented Ocean City midfielder Lauren McNally, a Penn State recruit. In between, senior back Allie Brouhard cashed in on a goal to briefly give Warren Hills a 2-1 lead with 9:00 minutes before the half. But McNally evened things with 1:59 on the clock, when her shot bounced off the pads of Streaks goalie Jackie de Raismes.

Ocean City regained the lead with 22:32 left in the second half on a goal by Rialee Allen. After Profita's tying goal, she combined with sister Dani Profita, who scored her 22nd goal to give the Streaks a 4-3 lead with 11:57 remaining in regulation. In all, five different players scored goals for Warren Hills.

But McNally forced overtime with her third goal, as a costly Streaks' defensive mistake for not being five yards back on defense results in a penalty corner for OC. Another rocket blast toward the cage bounced off the pads and in for a 4-4 tie with 5:48 left on the clock.

Ocean City received another corner with 6:52 left in the 10-minute overtime, but Warren Hills' defense snuffed it out and didn't allow a shot, setting the stage for Crampton's heroics. In all, four of the six meetings in the Group 3 final between these teams have been decided in overtime.

"We had every scenario possible [in this game]," Kerr said. "We were winning, then we were losing. Penalty strokes, overtime. It was a complete field hockey game."

Led by six "super seniors," as Kerr calls them, this Warren Hills team wasn't going to be denied in ending one of the toughest losing streaks in tournament history.

"They're winners on and off the field," Kerr said.

Ocean City (22-2)                            2             2          0      --    4
Warren Hills (23-3)                          2             2          1      --    5


First half -- WH, Katie Thompson, 8th, (Nikki Profita), 22:16; OC, Lauren McNally, 29th, (penalty stroke), 20:18; WH, Allie Brouhard, 10th, (penalty stroke), 9:00; OC, McNally, 30th, (penalty stroke), 1:59.

Second half -- OC, Rialee Allen, 21st, (Shannon O'Reilly), 22:32; WH, N. Profita, 19th, 16:43; WH, Dani Profita, 22nd, (N. Profita), 11:57; OC, McNally, 31st, 5:48.

Overtime -- WH, Amanda Crampton, 13th, (N. Profita), 4:38.

Shots -- Ocean City 10; Warren Hills 11.

Saves -- Charity Beckert 6 (OC); Amanda Oberly 1 (defensive), Jackie de Raismes 5 (WH).

Penalty corners -- Ocean City 5; Warren Hills 6.

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