Mendham overcomes rival for North III title; Chatham wins, Lakes falls

By Mark Kitchin


MENDHAM – It’s not that easy to beat a team three times in a season. And it doesn’t get any easier when that team plays up the road and knows you almost as well as you know yourself.

That still didn’t stop Mendham from toppling West Morris 12-3 and earning a North Group III state title on Thursday. Nicole Graziano scored four goals and Morgan Holleran, Gia Padavano and Maggie Sinzer added two goals apiece for Mendham. The Minutemen also received an excellent performance by goalkeeper Abby Witczak who had nine saves. Mendham now has the formidable task of facing state powerhouse Moorestown next week in a contest at Robbinsville.

Megan Monaco, Emily Delaney and Carly Shello each scored goals for West Morris. The Wolfpack had their best performance of the three games they had with the Minutemen. Goalkeeper Chrissy Baffuto, who missed the last few games with a concussion, made 12 saves including some close ones early. Mendham led 5-2 at halftime and pulled away with seven consecutive goals in the second half.

On April 6, Mendham came away with a 14-4 triumph against West Morris. A month later in the semifinals of the Morris County Tournament, Mendham was again victorious by a 13-5 score.

Mendham’s Ally Messinger is determined to keep the ball away from West Morris’ Emily Delaney on Thursday.

“In any sport it is hard to beat the same team three times,’’ Mendham defender Carley Horan said. “That’s something that motivated us. There are a ton of girls that played on the soccer team and in other sports that lost and we know how it feels. It’s something that motivated us to beat them one more time. They are our rivals. It’s on our home field and we want to keep going.’’

Mendham knew it had to get past their rivals just one more time if it entertained any thought of more titles in state play.

“It was just knowing that it was (West Morris) Central,’’ Padavano said. “Clearly were rivals. We play them all the time in every sport and that just made it better. We want to get out harder and play better but it clearly gives them an advantage because we have played them so many times. They are our biggest rival and our sister school and they know us as well as we do.’’

Padavano played a big role in Mendham in getting the Minutemen in synch offensively. The experienced sophomore scored goals at 14:05 and 6:13 to help Mendham extend from a 3-2 to a 5-2 advantage.

Every opportunity that they give you, you have to take it and hopefully finish it,’’ Padavano said. “Especially if they are getting close in the first half, you can’t waste those opportunities.’’

Mendham’s Morgan Holleran out jumps West Morris’ Amy Ernst to capture the draw in the North III final.

Other people had to get involved in the offense. After scoring an early goal, Graziano took a spill early in the game and came up holding her back. She stayed on the field but didn’t compete aggressively as she usually does until after halftime. Meanwhile, Mendham’s other top scorer Ally Messinger was being focused on by the West Morris defenders.

“Messie was face guarded most of the first half,’’ Padavano said. “Graz had a hard time getting open so that definitely gave me some opportunities. It’s my responsibility to step up if they are guarded.’’

West Morris snagged some draws and enjoyed goals by Shello and Delaney. It was within striking distance going into halftime but Mendham’s defense kept its opponents from getting closer.

Horan did a great job of shutting down one of West Morris’ steady scorers Maggie Maroney. All the Minutemen said they got a big lift from some of Witczak’s stellar stops in goal.

“Abby had a great game,’’ Horan said. “And she was so fired up and she was getting us fired up every time she made a good play. We were doing the same for her and there was really good team camaraderie for her.’’

Padavano agreed.

“Abby has great personal attitude,’’ Padavano said. “Every game she comes out stronger and stronger. She knows what’s on the line and there is a lot of pressure on her but she seems to come out on top of every time.’’

Mendham’s Abby Witczak jumps at the chance to stuff a West Morris shooter as Paige Russell comes in from the right.

Mendham regrouped and made some adjustments at halftime. They were ready to take control in the second half.

“It was just our time to rally,’’ Horan said. “I would say that we are kind of a second-half team. We’re able to do that and coach got us motivated at halftime. We had the lead and we wanted to go out and get that first (state) championship.’’

Mendham went on a 7-goal run starting with a goal by Graziano who won the draw control and scored just 12 seconds in the half to make it 6-2.

She scored the first three goals of the second half. Her last one was perhaps the most dramatic. A play in front of the West Morris crease that was disputed among officials resulted in a throw between a West Morris and Mendham player.

West Morris eventually won possession but lost the ball behind its cage when a pass to Baffuto bounced off her stick. Messinger scooped up the ball and found Graziano streaking toward the empty net. Her hard, quick shot made it an 8-2 game with 16:01 left.

Mendham’s Maggie Sinzer (21), Ally Messinger (5) and Gia Padavano (4) celebrate Morgan Holleran’s early goal.

Messinger followed that back-breaking goal with her only score, an unassisted goal at 13:36. Sinzer knocked in her pair and Holleran scored again (two goals came with a man-advantage) to give Mendham a 10-goal advantage with 6:32 left. West Morris’ Monaco completed the scoring with three minutes left.

Now the Minutemen will have plenty of time over the holiday to dream and plan and prepare for Moorestown.

“It feels great,’’ Horan said. “From here on out every single win we get is another championship. This being the first round is really exciting.’’

State games of note:

North II final

Chatham13, Summit 8 – Junior Kelsey Perseley fired a hat trick including her 100th career goal and won a majority of the draws to help the Cougars to the title. Jaclyn Leto, Cat McCutcheon, Kate Murphy and Mary Kate O’Neill scored two goals apiece forChatham (19-4). The Cougars will play South champ Rumson at Ridge High next Thursday to decide the Group II title.

Summit’s Kelly Osmulsky scored five goals including the first three goals of the game to spot the Hilltoppers an early 3-0 advantage during the first 6:15 of the games. Chatham called timeout, cleaned up its defensive mistakes, started winning draws and went on an 8-2 run to make it an 8-5 game at halftime. The Cougars would pull away from there.

North I final

Glen Ridge 11, Mountain Lakes 7 – The Ridgers captured their second consecutive North title. Sarah Malone scored four goals and Mary Alati had three goals and three assists for Glen Ridge which led 5-2 at the half.

Hallie Walker hat a hat trick, Megan Ryan scored two goals and Grace Newfrock and Jackie Perry had a goal apiece forMountainLakes (13-7).


About mcvbb

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

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