Chatham girls advance to T of C final

By Mark Kitchin


WEST LONG BRANCH — Kate Murphy didn’t have time to think about where she was going to place her game-winning shot. She just did it. Goalie Hannah Reader thought even less about her game-saving stop.

There was more reacting than thinking for the Chatham Cougars which is what made their Tournament of Champions victory seem so special on Tuesday.

Murphy, a senior attack player, connected for the game winning goal with 2:08 left in regulation and juniot goalie Hannah Reader made 14 saves including some stellar ones in the final minutes to lift Chathamto an 11-10 triumph over Ridgewood in the Tournament of Champions semifinal held at Kessler Field on the Monmouth University campus.

Mary Kate O’Neill fired a hat trick and Murphy and Kallan Murray had two goals apiece for the 23-2 Cougars which will play in Saturday’s Tournament of Champions final at Kean University in Union. The Cougars will play unbeaten Moorestown, a 14-7 winner over Glen Ridge on Tuesday.

Kelci Smesko scored four goals forRidgewood( 22-3). She helped rally the Maroons from a 7-0 first-half deficit. Ridgewood closed to 9-6 at the half. A free position goal by Smesko with 5:53 tied the game at 10-10 and lifted the intensity level in the late stages of the contest.

Chatham is returning to the title game for the first time since its inaugural appearance in 2008. The defending champions Ridgewood knocked them out of the tournament in last year’s semifinal. This year the Cougars decided to return the favor.

Brittany Marriott jumps for joy after scoring an early goal for Chatham. The Cougars built an early 7-0 lead.

“I’m so excited,’’ Reader said. “This is my third year playing. We never made it this far. We always got cut off at this game.’’

“It feels good,’’ Murphy added. “I can’t imagine anything better.’’

Murphy was one of the few starters that did not play in last year’s semifinal. The contest was tied 10-10 when she suddenly found the ball in her stick with some open space on the right side of the field to take a shot.

“It was a world of emotions,’’ Murphy said. “Our coaches were calling a play on the sidelines. There was a lot of noise I couldn’t really hear what was going on. I saw everyone muddling up top so I might as well join the muddle. I could tell my defender wasn’t on her toes so I flashed back. It wasn’t exactly the play that was called but Lauren (Maiorano) hit me with the pass – going in.’’

Whether she realized it or not, the play was one of the few plays Chatham calls specifically for her. Her hard shot bounced into the low left corner of the net which caused her Cougars teammates to  jump in her arms moments later.

“She plays so cool and she has so much composure out there,’’ O’Neill said of her teammate. “That’s our favorite play to run for her. She gets that low angle shot and whips it in.’’

The contest wasn’t over. Ridgewood won possession and had two good scoring opportunities in the final minute. One Reader blocked with her body on a kick save. Ridgewood’s final effort from Maggie Carver seemed to be slowed down by a clash of sticks and Reader surrounded the ball with her goalie stick.

“I guess it was just whatever happened was going to happen,’’ Reader said. “I’m not sure (if someone hit her stick). After I saved it we just wanted to hold on to it and get it up the field so we can get it far away from our goal and run down the clock.’’

 Reader made 14 saves in all including a few spectacular ones midway through the second half when the teams were matching defensive stops.

“Hannah made some amazing saves,’’ O’Neill said. “She is the backbone of our team. She is amazing. She plays great under pressure.’’

The Ridgewood defense swarmed Chatham’s Jaclyn Leto. The Maroons limited her to a second-half goal.

Defensively, Chatham focused on limiting the scoring efforts of Smesko by throwing a torture test of defensive obstacles at her.

“We face guarded her all game,’’ Murphy said. “We had two girls pretty much designed to do it. They would always stay on her. She’s a great player. Sometimes she would work the crease to get her face guarder off of her but our girls did a great job of staying on her.’’

The trio of Kit Whiteman, Liz Hyde and Brittney Marriott all had a hand in slowing down the Maroons athletic playmaker.

“Smesko and Ridgewood does a really good job of using the face guard to (their advantage),’’Chatham coach Deb Marriott said. “We just had to make sure we had the double with everything being sent. We knew what Smesko’s signature move was.’’

Ridgewood put up defensive roadblocks for Chatham’s top scorer Jaclyn Leto. She was limited to a goal but it didn’t stop the Cougars offense — at least not early. Chatham’s Kelsey Perselay won most of the early draws and her teammates pushed the ball in transition to build a 7-0 edge with 12:24 left in the first half. Despite the big lead, the Cougars weren’t fooled.

 “We played them in the regular season and we were up by seven at the half,’’ Murphy said. “We let up the second half and they came back and won it.

“We said we were not letting that happen again. We’re not losing to them like we did in the semifinal of the T of C last year. We knew deep down that we had to pull it out this time.’’

Chatham’s Liz Hyde (left) gets position on Ridgewood’s Lauren Beausuleil (13) in first half action.

Ridgewood got out of its funk before halftime by scoring six goals in a 12-minute span. The Maroons scored the last three goals of the half to make it a 9-6 contest by halftime. Back-to-back scores by Carver and Darby Kiernan to start the second half made it a one-goal game with 20 minutes left. The Cougars decided to change their luck by adjusting their draw and moving O’Neill to take Perselay’s place at center.

“We needed to switch it up,’’ O’Neill said. “They had figured out Kelsey’s tricks. Sometimes it’s better to switch it up so they don’t know what to expect. We have different techniques. She is taller and bigger so she uses that to her advantage. I just try to hurl it away.’’

O’Neill is smaller and has a touch quicker stick over Perselay which may have thrown Smesko’s timing off. The switch allowed for one other vital change around the circle. It put Perselay in a position to win draw controls because of her size.

The change helped slow down Ridgewood’s scoring run but now it became more of a back-and-forth contest. The Maroons tied the game twice but the Cougars were able to match them goal for goal.

Kate Smesko hit a lefty shot to tie the game at 9-9 with 18 minutes left but Chatham’s Leto responded with an emotional goal of her own. She scrambled to get free in front of the Ridgewood cage and scored on a feed from Perselay with 13:05 left to make it 10-9.

A Chatham yellow card, opened the opportunity for Ridgewood around the eight-minute mark. Reeder made a dramatic free position save on a Kelci Smesko shot, but she couldn’t stop all Ridgewood attempts with a man down. Smesko tied the game at 5:53 when she placed a righty shot in the left corner to make it 10-10.

Chatham goalkeeper Hannah Reader made some tough saves in the final minutes to secure the win.

It set the stage for Murphy’s game-winner. Now Chatham has a shot at its first Tournament of Champions title.

“It feels amazing,’’ O’Neill said. “We’ve been waiting for this all year — ever since last year, when they broke our hearts on this field. We just wanted to get it back.’’



About mcvbb

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

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