Chatham’s season ends at the beginning

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

WEST LONG BRANCH – When it comes right down to it, how a lacrosse game ends is often decided at the beginning – the draw.

Win it and you control the game, lose it and you are usually at the mercy of your opponent.

Ridgewood captured more draws than Chatham and despite some strong performances by certain Cougars, the Maroons will return to the Tournament of Champions final to defend their title.

Midfielder Jess Miller scored six goals to lift Ridgewood to a 14-8 victory over Chatham in the semifinal round of the T of C  held on the campus of Monmouth University on Tuesday. The Maroons will face perennial powerhouse Moorestown, an 8-4 victor over Glen Ridge, on Saturday in the T of C title game held at Yurcak Field on the Rutgers University campus.

Junior Jaclyn Leto fired a hat trick and Kelsey Perselay and Mary Kate O’Neill scored two goals apiece for Chatham. The Cougars led 7-5 at halftime and also got a 13-save performance by goalkeeper Hannah Reader but they were hurt by Ridgewood’s mastery of the draw in the second half.

Winning the draw was a key element in Ridgewood’s victory over Chatham in Tuesday’s state contest.

“In the second half we just didn’t come up with the draw and that just killed us,’’ Chatham coach Deb Marriott said. “With the draw, it’s trying to get the girl in front (of it) to pick it up and we just didn’t do it. We were not aggressive enough to do that. I don’t know why we weren’t boxing out and getting in front. We just weren’t.’’

Without the ability to win the ball, Chatham played defense for long stretches in the 90-degree heat. When the Cougars did get the ball on offense they tried not to press but every mistake or weak scoring attempt was magnified.

“When they scored a bunch of quick goals on us we weren’t able to come back,’’ Leto said. “When we would get possession, we were pressing it because we knew we really needed a goal.’’

Leto, who is one of the team’s ground ball leaders, had few answers for Chatham’s inability to win the draws in order to get the necessary possessions and keep it out of the hands of the Ridgewood attack.

“I guess it was just desire on the circle,’’ Leto said. “We  just couldn’t get it. We will work on that and get it next year and get to the finals.’’

Chatham goalkeeper Hannah Reader put in a positive performance with 13 saves to her credit.

Chatham was kept in the game by Reader who saved one of her strongest performances for the end of tournament play. She made six saves in the first half to keep the Cougars ahead early.

“She was unbelievable,’’ Leto said. “I’m just happy that I can play with her next year.’’

Reader was astonished at how well Chatham’s defense played this year especially after losing senior stalwart Lindsay Ford in the middle of May.

“It was a goal for us this season just to make it here.’’ Reader said. “We developed so much this season. Our teamwork came together. Everyone trusted each other more.’’

Another great defensive performance was put in by Kit Whiteman. Despite being about eight inches shorter, she face-guarded Ridgewood’s leading scorer Kelci Smesko and shut her out in the first half and a majority of the second half.

“Kit is a fabulous player,’’ Reader said. “If we didn’t have her, the game would have been extremely different. She’s one of our best defenders and I’m really proud of her.’’

Chatham struggled a little bit on the draw in the first half as well but managed a 7-5 lead after the first 25 minutes. On three separate instances the Cougars enjoyed two-goal advantages. They opened up their last offense surge of the season with Leto’s second goal, an unassisted tally with 6:11 left and Lauren Maiorano’s score with 4.4 seconds left in the half.

Chatham coach Deb Marriott (left center) raises her concerns in the Cougars’ huddle.

Both teams made adjustments afterwards but Ridgewood seemed to get the better of them. Once the Maroons started scoring and winning faceoffs, momentum was on their side.

“It was a mental adjustment,’’ said Ridgewood Coach Karla Mixon said. “There was the technical issue, but it was also being accurate in your passes — being smarter in your shots — not forcing things on offense. It’s executing what we talked about and what we practiced.’’

Mixon praised Chatham for the improvement it showed over the course of the season. Ridgewood had a more decisive 15-9 win over Chatham in early April despite the equal margin of victory.

“They did so much better with being aggressive,’’ Mixon said. “They are always a team that likes to pressure out high and pressure behind but in the second half we played our game and we got the girls inside to get the shots off.’’

Ridgewood scored eight consecutive goals in the second half to take the game over. They took the lead on a Miller free position with 16:32 left to make it 8-7. A goal by Lindsay Weiner soon followed but the game still seemed in hand for the Cougars.

When Whiteman, who battled Smesko all game was given a yellow card for a questionable check, Ridgewood’s chances improved. Free from Whiteman’s tenacious defensive presence, Smesko scored 15 seconds later at 7:32 to make it a three-goal game. Three minutes later, Lauren Beausoleil’s low rolling shot made it 11-7 Ridgewood.

The Maroons also took advantage of the pressure the Cougars started using on defense to try and get the ball back.

“They did a good job of wearing our defense down,’’ Deb Marriott said. “We weren’t seeing the second cuts.’’

Ridgewood would notch two more goals before Leto scored the last goal of Chatham’s season when she tucked in a Brittany Marriott feed with 1:12 left.

Although the Cougars stellar season (division and Group II titles) ended in disappointment, the future looks bright. Chatham will lose seniors Cat McCutcheon and Ford, who dressed but was not cleared to play. Practically everyone else returns including Leto who finished a sensational junior year with 96 goals and more than 120 ground balls to her credit.

“We had a great season,’’ Leto said. “Every game we played for each other and not just individually. I’ll never forget this team.’’

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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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