Bill's goal forced overtime, and when two sudden-victory periods couldn't produce a winner, two rounds of penalty strokes eventually resulted in a 2-1 win (3-2 on strokes) for No. 3 seed Central in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament semifinals at Voorhees High School.
Hunterdon Central (8-5) will get a championship final rematch with top-seeded Warren Hills (13-2) on Saturday at Hackettstown High School. The Blue Streaks, who advanced with a 3-2 win over No. 5 seed High Point in the other semifinal, have won three straight HWS championships, including a 2-1 win over Central in last year's title game.
"This was huge after not going to the finals for so many years," said veteran Central coach Jenn Sponzo, whose program is seeking its first HWS title and the school's first county championship since 2003, when it was just the Hunterdon-Warren Tournament.
"We played an outstanding game with a lot of heart and determination. We played so hard, that's what got us to this point. We just needed to finish. It's been our season. We've been playing catch up every game."
Senior midfielder Nikki Freeman, who converted stroke attempts in each round, set up the eventual winner by junior Kali Huck in the second round. Huck's stroke, which hit the top of the cage and bounced off Voorhees goalie Annie Weiler before crossing the goal line, gave Central a 3-2 edge.
With each team having five shooters, junior Laura Chen took the final attempt for Voorhees, needing to convert to force a third round. Chen's attempt was straight on Hunterdon Central goalie Elizabeth O'Brien, who easily batted the ball away to send Central to back-to-back county finals for the first time since the program earned three straight trips from 1996-98 in the H-W Tournament. The loss snapped Voorhees' seven-game win streak.
Huck had the chance to be the hero as the final shooter in the opening round, which saw each team convert just one stroke, but her attempt was batted down as Weiler dove to her right.
Voorhees (13-3), the No. 2 seed, also lost on strokes in last year's semifinals to Warren Hills. The Vikings, who last won an HWS title in 2012, had earned a 1-0 win over Hunterdon Central at home on Oct. 5. Central with its win on Saturday, snapped a 12-game losing streak in a non-continuous series with its first win over Voorhees since a 1-0 victory on Oct. 29, 2005.
Freshman Cassie Boyce gave Voorhees a 1-0 lead with her eight goal of the season off a feed from senior Hannah Schiavo with 19:44 left in the second half. Schiavo was a force in the two overtime periods, setting up two penalty corners in the first OT, as the Vikes had five corners in all to none for Central in the two 10-minute sessions.
Hunterdon Central (8-5) 0 1 0 0 -- 2
Voorhees (13-3) 0 1 0 0 -- 1
Second half -- V, Cassie Boyce, 8th, (Hannah Schiavo), 19:44; HC, Brittany Bill, 7th, 8:17.
Penalty strokes one -- V, Paige Peterson; HC, Nikki Freeman.
Penalty strokes two -- HC, Dayna DeVincentz, Freeman, Kali Huck; V, Peterson, Schiavo.
Shots -- Hunterdon Central 7; Voorhees 9.
Saves -- Elizabeth O'Brien 8 (HC); Annie Weiler 6 (V).
Penalty corners -- Hunterdon Central 9; Voorhees 9.
Blue Streaks oust Wildcats
WASHINGTON TWP. -- It's getting to be old hat for Warren Hills, which advanced to its seventh HWS final and fourth in a row, with the win over High Point.
Junior Tali Popinko led the way with a pair of goals, both coming in the first three minutes of the game. Popinko,a former midfielder, appears to be settling into her new center forward role, which was vacated when senior Dani Profita, the school's all-time leading scorer, was lost for the season with an ACL injury sustained in a win over Phillipsburg on Sept. 22.
"When we lost Dani Profita, it was a big transition for all of us," said Popinko, who has five goals and two assists in her last six games, and eight goals and seven assists on the season. "She was a big loss for us, but we're still the same good team."
Warren Hills, despite giving up seven corners and being outshot 4-3 in the first half, took a two-goal lead into the second half. Junior left wing Alyssa Appleby gave the Streaks a 3-0 lead with her goal off a feed from junior Rebecca Sigman, her second assist of the game, with 21:57 left in the game.
It appeared as if the Streaks were well on their way to a rout, until High Point struck with 15:09 left on a goal by junior Cassady Bruning. Sophomore Tyra Wingle, who assisted on Bruning's goal, really made things interesting when she connected for a goal with 4:52 left.
Despite a 10-2 edge in shots and an 8-0 advantage on corners in the second half, Warren Hills had to sweat it out in the final minutes, though High Point never really threatened again. 'Cats goalie Brittany McKenna was solid in the second half and kept her team within striking distance.
"I'm so proud of my team," said longtime High Point coach Bev Keur, whose Wildcats were looking for their first finals appearance since 2012 and were without senior forward Kelsey Little (finger injury) for a third straight game. "Warren Hills is the better team and some of my seniors remember that 8-0 loss here [the last time the teams met in the 2014 semis]. But they didn't back down."
Wingle's goal was disputed by Warren Hills coach Kate Rothman, who felt the ball was hit outside the circle and was never touched by one of her players. In fact, outstanding Blue Streaks goalie Jackie de Raismes appeared to be content just letting the ball trickle by her, presumably because the defense thought it was a dead ball.
Nonetheless, Warren Hills, which has won six in a row, will bid for tournament-record fourth straight title. Most had the final pegged for a rematch with Voorhees, which scored a 1-0 win in overtime against the Streaks on Sept. 27.
"The last two-three games, they're really jelling as a team," said Rothman, whose Streaks scored a 2-1 win at Hunterdon Central on Sept. 10. "They've played in these [pressure] games."
Warren Hills will face Voorhees in a game that will decide this year's Skyland Conference Raritan Division champion on Thursday in Lebanon Township. Two days later, the Streaks will play for a county title.
"I think they're both pretty even," Popinko said of Central and Voorhees. "We had close games with both. We just need to get it in the circle and score."
High Point (8-5-2) 0 2 -- 2
Warren Hills (13-2) 2 1 -- 3
First half -- WH, Tali Popinko, 7th, 29:22; WH, Popinko, 8th, (Rebecca Sigman), 26:59.
Second half -- WH, Alyssa Appleby, 10th, (Sigman), 21:57; HP, Cassady Bruning, 5th, (Tyra Wingle), 15:09; HP, Wingle, 6th, (Missy Way), 4:52.
Shots -- High Point 6; Warren Hills 13.
Saves -- Brittany McKenna 10 (HP); Jackie de Raismes 3, Brie Schwab 1 (defensive save).
Penalty corners -- High Point 7; Warren Hills 9.