Junior midfielder Mikayla Dugan converted a penalty stroke with just 2:21 left in the game as the third-seeded Blue Streaks scored two unanswered second-half goals for a 2-1 victory over top-seeded West Morris in the North 1, Group 3 sectional final on Friday at West Morris Central High School.
Warren Hills (19-4) earned its fifth straight championship and the program's 14th overall -- matching South Hunterdon for the most sectional titles in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area. The Streaks, who have won the last two Group 3 state titles, will next face North 2 champion Freehold Borough at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the semifinals at A.L. Johnson High School. The winner will face Moorestown or Ocean City in the Group 3 final at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12 at Bordentown High School.
|Warren Hills celebrates its 14th sectional title and fifth in a row.|
"It feels good," said back Brie Schwab, who was outstanding on defense and one of four senior starters to win sectional titles in each of their four years -- just the fourth senior class ever to do so at the Warren County School. "It's [big shoes] to fill. We won that first Group 3 title as sophomores."
With Warren Hills threatening, a ball became logged under West Morris goalie Emily Egan on a corner to create a penalty stroke opportunity for the Blue Streaks. Dugan stepped to the line and flicked the ball into the upper-left corner of the cage -- just beating Egan's diving attempt for what proved to be the winning goal. Just minutes earlier, Egan, one of six senior starters for the Wolfpack, denied a solid stroke attempt by junior Tali Popinko to the same side.
"That's my strong side," said Dugan, who was asked if she thought about going to the right side after Popinko's miss. "I really wanted to make it. I wanted [the game] to be over."
West Morris (20-4) looked primed to pull off an upset -- despite the seeds -- when it took a 1-0 lead with 17:55 left in the first half. Junior forward Faith Spaziano converted her team-leading 28th goal off a penalty corner as the ball bounced around and rolled into the right corner of the cage.
Playing on grass seemed to be an early advantage for the home team. Warren Hills, which plays all of its home games on turf, looked a bit sluggish at least early on. But the Streaks showed their championship mettle coming out of the break as the offense suddenly came to life. Schwab's shot off a corner -- one of eight in the second half for the visitors-- bounced off Egan's pads just minutes into the second half.
With 20:20 to go, junior Rebecca Sigman evened things with her team-leading 16th goal on Warren Hills' third corner of the second half. That goal seemingly turned the tide for good in the Streaks' favor.
"It was extremely tough [playing on grass]," Schwab said. "Just mentality-wise, it's a lot harder to play on grass. [Down 1-0], we said [a loss] wasn't going to happen. We need to pick it up right now and not let one goal affect us."
Warren Hills coach Kate Rothman could not have been happier for her players, who have battled through quite a few injuries this season, including the loss of star forward Dani Profita, the school's all-time scoring leader and two-time HWS Tournament MVP who sustained a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 22.
"This was a big one," said Rothman, who is 2-for-2 in sectional finals since taking over prior to the 2015 season. "It took time to adjust, but we're a team. A team wins games. Schwab was awesome today [on defense] and [goalie Jackie de Raismes] is always solid. We just needed to start playing our game, using our skills and moving the ball."
Since Profita's season ended with her scoring 14 goals, Sigman and Popinko (13 goals, 9 assists) have helped pick up the offensive slack. In fact, the Streaks have five players with double-digit goal totals, as Alyssa Appleby (13 goals) and Caroline Cotte (10 goals), who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, have also come up big at times this season.
"Usually teams just have that one big scorer. We have five," Rothman said. "That's saying something."
The challenge for Warren Hills once again is not looking ahead to a potential fifth straight meeting with Ocean City in next Saturday's Group 3 final, as the teams have split the last four championships. Dugan is confident that her team won't let that happen against Freehold Borough, which is 2-1 all-time against Warren Hills, including wins in the 2007 and '11 North 2, Group 3 finals.
"We'll keep our focus for the next game," she said. "Then we'll be ready to play Ocean City or whoever."
Warren Hills (19-4) 0 2 -- 2
West Morris (20-4) 1 0 -- 1
First half -- WM, Faith Spaziano, 28th, (Jackie Drzewinski), 17:55.
Second half -- WH, Rebecca Sigman, 16th, 20:20; WH, Mikayla Dugan, 6th, (penalty stroke), 2:21.
Shots -- Warren Hills 9; West Morris 4.
Saves -- Jackie de Raismes 2, Brie Schwab 1 (defensive) (WH); Emily Egan 7 (WM).
Penalty corners -- Warren Hills 13; West Morris 11.
Central falls in North 2, Group 4
Bridgewater-Raritan 3, Hunterdon Central 1 -- Senior midfielder Nikki Freeman scored her sixth goal in four games, but it wasn't enough as the third-seeded Red Devils lost to the top-seeded Panthers for a third time this season in Friday's North 2, Group 4 final.
Freeman, a University of Iowa recruit, finishes her final season with 17 goals. Central (15-7) was looking to snap a 10-game skid against its nemesis dating to 2013. Coach Jenn Sponzo's Red Devils, who won their first HWS Tournament title this season, are now 8-26-2 overall vs. Bridgewater in her 17 seasons and have lost 24 of the last 25 meetings. The Hunterdon County school was bidding for its first sectional title since '13 and its 14th overall.
Bridgewater-Raritan (21-2), which beat Central, Voorhees and Warren Hills this season, claimed its 12th straight sectional title as it looks to make its 12th straight appearance in the Group 4 final. The Panthers will next face Morristown -- a 4-0 winner over Montclair in the North 1 final -- in Wednesday's Group 4 semifinals. The winner will face either Freehold Township or Eastern, which has beaten Bridgewater-Raritan in 11 straight Group 4 finals, at 10 a.m. in championship game on Nov. 12.