Mendham falls to Moorestown in Group III final

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

FLEMINGTON — Aly Messinger shrugged her shoulders and stared at the turf as if it seemed like a good place to crawl under and escape. She had no answers.

The question was how Mendham could play so well for the first 10 minutes of their state game against Moorestown and then have it melt away along with their chances of redemption for the quadruple overtime loss to Moorestown in last year’s Group III final.

Haleigh Dalmass scored five goals and Moorestown rallied from an early deficit to topple Mendham 13-8 in the Group III state tournament girls lacrosse final held on Thursday on the turf at Hunterdon Central.

Stephanie Toy had two goals and two assists and Nikki McMonagle and Marie McCool had two goals each for the Quakers which remain unbeaten. Moorestown advances to the Tournament of Champions which will hold its semifinal round next week at Monmouth University.

Aly Messinger scored four goals to finish her brilliant varsity career with the Minutemen. Gia Padavano and Maggie Sinzer added two goals apiece for Mendham. The Minutemen started the game with a 3-0 run, but Moorestown answered with seven consecutive goals. Moorestown built an 8-5 halftime lead and an 11-6 edge with 14-13 left in the contest. They withstood a late Mendham surge to take the crown again.

The Moorestown defense made it difficult for Mendham standout Aly Messinger to make a path to the goal.

 The Minutemen started the game with consecutive goals by Messinger and a pair by Padavano to take a 3-0 lead with 18:54 left in the first half. It looked like it might be Mendham’s day.

“We were really pumped,’’ Messinger said. “We were all hustling. We were winning the draw. We were just playing like we didn’t really care — like we wanted to get it done.’’

Then like flicking a switch, Moorestown responded with seven goals in a row. Quakers standouts Toy and Dalmass scored two apiece to help build an 7-3 advantage with 4:41 left.

“We played the first 10 minutes and then it kind of went downhill,’’ Messinger said. “I think we took some bad shots and had a lot of turnovers that shouldn’t have happened. If we didn’t turn the ball over as much, it would have been a different game.’’

Mendham’s Paige Russell (1) gets off a shot at Rutgers-bound Moorestown goalkeeper Amanda Correll.

Moorestown is off to another undefeated season and determined to regain its status as the top team in the state. The Quakers have the capability of making even great teams look bad and good teams look positively awful. Mendham goalie Abby Witczak knew going in that the Minutemen would be challenged.

“They have a really good team,’’ the junior goalie said. “They were able to find the seams and they executed their offense well. I thought we played pretty good defense. There were some lapses but I’m very proud of my team.’’

 Their primary offense focuses on a lot of x cuts and their ability to work off the defensive slides for scoring opportunities, but the Quakers near flawless offensive execution and their overall skill level forced the Minutemen to prepare for just about anything. Overall, there was plenty of blame to pass around for the loss.

“We just made mistakes on both ends of the field,’’ Witczak said.

Mendham’s Maggie Sinzer (22) scored twice but goals were difficult to come by for the Minutemen in state play.

It is to their credit that the Minutemen showed plenty of heart and battled back twice. Scores by Messinger and Sinzer cut the Moorestown lead to 7-5. However, McMonagle’s goal with two seconds left in regulation made it an 8-5 Quakers advantage going into the break and killed any momentum the Minutemen built up.

Moorestown had an 11-6 lead with 14:13 left in the game when Mendham made its last run with back-to-back goals by Messinger (at 6:52) and Sinzer on a free position (at 5:51). The Quakers were forced to call time and regroup. They ended the Minutemen threat by putting up back-to-back scores of their own to finish the game. Then Moorestown collected  its fifth Group III title in six years.

Mendham will start the quest for championships all over again next spring without Messinger, who is headed for the Universityof North Carolina. She and her Mendham teammates finished the season with a sectional title and plenty of pride for their overall efforts but they were visibly disappointed at the final outcome.

“I’m just proud of our team,’’ Messinger said. “It’s not the way we wanted to end the season but we can’t take it back now.’’

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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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