Mendham dominates West Morris and returns to MCT Final

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

MENDHAM – Abby Witczak doesn’t mind watching opposing goalkeepers struggle against Mendham’s efficient offense. She has to practice with those goal-hungry girls all week, let other keepers take some shots for awhile.

Witczak has her challenges as well but the Mendham goalkeeper appreciates the leads her teammates give her. On Friday, Mendham built a commanding 11-0 first-half lead and prevailed 13-5 over rival West Morris in a Morris County Tournament semifinal contest.

Ally Messinger had five goals and three assists and Maggie Sinzer fired a hat trick for Mendham (13-1). The Minutemen will play the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between Chatham and Mountain Lakes. The title game is scheduled for Wednesday night at Roxbury High School.

Erin Gutkind scored a pair of goals for fourth-seeded West Morris (8-5). The Minutemen had defeated the Wolfpack 14-4 in early April.

Mendham teammates celebrate Maggie Sinzer’s first-half goal during Friday’s MCT game.

Although goalkeepers enjoy it when their teams put together big leads, it isn’t always the easiest thing for a netminder to keep focus. Goalies still have to bear down even when the ball is in the other side of the field, no matter what the scoreboard reads.

“You talk to your defense and make sure everyone is on the line and ready to go,’’ Witczak said. “You have to remember the next shot is what counts.”

Witczak, a sophomore who had 10 saves on Friday, gets her share of work. She’s always busy in practice while trying to stop the hard and tricky shots that Messinger, Nicole Graziano and others launch at her.

“It’s all about pushing each other,’’ Witczak said. “We push each other until we can’t go anymore. … They definitely know how to place the ball and it makes me move and have to be more active in the cage.’’

A shot by Mendham’s Gia Padavino squeezed past West Morris goalkeeper Michelle Baffuto on Friday.

Many of the shots have been in the upper corners. Not the tallest of keepers, Witczak gets plenty of work on the high side.

“No one has really told me that it’s been an advantage but I think that (being smaller) makes me work a little bit harder,’’ Witczak said. “I have to be more active and get my body moving and use my quickness and my athleticism.’’

Witczak also gives a tremendous amount of credit to her defense for making her job easier.

“We have great leadership from Carly Horan and Hayley Keith,’’ Witczak said. “They really get everyone focused and ready to go. … They talk, they communicate, they get everyone going. They let everyone know what their job is and make sure that it gets done.’’

Mendham had its way with West Morris on Friday. The Minutemen scored six goals in the first eight minutes. Messinger in particular was spectacular while running the Mendham offense. When she wasn’t directing from behind the net and finding her teammates with pinpoint passes, she took it to the cage herself, slipping past one defender and getting accurate shots off before the Wolfpack’s slides moved in.

Witczak’s ability in goal often helps the offense in certain circumstances.

Mendham’s Abby Witczak ignores all distractions to make a save during MCT action.

The sophomore netminder’s saves give her teammates a psychological advantage. When the Minutemen start piling up goals, the pressure is often on an opponents’ attack to match them. Anytime Witczak gets a save, the result is a deflating one for an opponent. Sometimes her saves create transition opportunities that lead to  quick Mendham scores. Witczak had four first-half saves on Friday, often frustrating West Morris’ efforts to get back into the game.

Mendham’s Becky Gohsler eludes two West Morris defenders with a cutback move during MCT action.

The win was bittersweet for the sophomore goalie that has several friends on the Wolfpack, but like the rest of the Minutemen, she’s happy to be returning to the title game and a chance for redemption and MCT glory.

“I’m so excited,’’ Witczak said. “We’ve got another shot and I just can’t wait. Last year’s game was very nerve wracking. I had never played a game like that and I never played at night before so it was a different experience. I’m ready to go back.’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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