Salerno was everywhere in Mendham’s MCT win

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

ROXBURY — Either they are cloning in Mendham or Mariah Salerno must be a triplet. The Minutemen stand out seemed to be everywhere on Thursday.

Salerno fired a hat trick and also played important roles in face-off and transition in Mendham’s 8-5 triumph over Chatham in the Morris County Tournament semifinals played at Roxbury High School.

Mendham will face top-seeded Mountain Lakes in the title game. The Lakers were a 19-10 victor over fifth-seeded Kinnelon in the other semifinal. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Roxbury High School.

Last year, Chatham rallied to defeat Mendham 13-12 in the championship contest. It wasn’t quite the same but the semifinal win certainly seemed sweet for the Minutemen (11-4). There was certainly no lingering effect from last year’s tough loss after squandering a lead late in the game.

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If there was an everywhere position, Mariah Salerno would play it. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“New year — new team — it was our year to win,’’ Salerno said. “We came out strong. That’s what we needed to do.’’

“Every year, every game against Chatham it is always a rivalry matchup for us,’’ Mendham’s Gia Padavano added. “It was a revenge game for us. I think going into it we knew that we had to start off strong and keep getting it in and never letting up and we did that today.’’

Second-seeded Mendham was ahead from the very beginning. It scored the first five goals including two from Becky Gohsler’s stick to build a 6-2 halftime advantage. Padavano scored one and assisted on four of those first half goals by taking advantage of Chatham’s doubling defense.

“Going into it we worked through things in practice yesterday,’’ Padavano said. “We noticed that they were going to start sending the doubles and when that happened it leaves people open and as long as you can get it in that helps.”

Salerno’s efforts helped the Minutemen maintain that advantage. She took over the draws in the second half. She is often an important transition midfielder from defense to offense. She is also a scoring threat.

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Becky Gohsler’s stick check kept this Chatham shot from touching the net or goalie Abby Witczek. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“Mariah does a lot,’’ Mendham coach Jess Shoulberg said. “She’s our leader. She’s a four-year starter. She only missed one game and that was last week when she tweaked her hamstring. She’s very determined. She does everything we ask her to do. A lot of the seniors are the same way. It’s kind of a contagious energy that she creates on the field.’’

There are days when she is the most lethal scorer on the field. There are other days when she doesn’t attempt a shot.

“Mariah has roles all over the field,’’ Padavano said. “She stepped up big time and we need her to do that going forward. She’s a player who is versatile all over the place.’’

“It depends on what we need for the game,’’ Shoulberg added. “We change it up every game. We want her in the midfield, in low defense. We can put her in any role except goalie. She takes it and loves it. She doesn’t care about her stats. She just wants what is best for the team.’’

It was in the interest of changing the pace and the matchups on the circle that Salerno tool more draws in the second half.

“It was just to switch it up,’’ Shoulberg said. “It just wasn’t going in the right direction or the off-ball people weren’t getting off the line well. We wanted to change the direction.’’

“Going into it we knew that we had certain matchups and that’s how we always plan our draws with who is taking them,’’ Salerno said. “In the second half we just wanted to get it out of the circle and into the girls who can get possession.’’

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Mendham’s Lara Guida keeps in front of Chatham’s Maddy Bowles during first-half action. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Salerno also scored what was probably the most important goal of the second half and helped cement the Mendham win.

The third-seeded Cougars (7-8) rallied midway through the second half with goals by Kennedy Krauss and Bridget Ballard cutting the deficit to 7-4 with 16:38.

After several changes of possession which included Chatham fighting off a yellow card penalty, Mendham stopped the rally and extended its lead to four goals on a free position shot by Salerno, her third goal of the game. She had her plan in mind as she faced the Cougars’ experienced netminder Hannah Reader.

“Get a good fake in and move her,’’ Salerno said. “That’s the only way to score in girls lacrosse.’’

Her righty shot hit the lower left corner to make it a 4-goal game at the 9:20 mark. With a sizable margin the Minutemen won the draw and were able to open the field and play a possession game. That strategy often backfires on teams, but the Mendham players had plenty of stamina and made enough good decisions against Chatham double-teams to keep possession for a majority of the last nine minutes.

“Composure,’’ Salerno said. “Composure is the key, especially when we are doing that. We wanted to keep possession and make sure it doesn’t go back on the defense.’’

Lauren Maiorano, who scored twice, connected with 24 seconds remaining but there was no time left for the Cougars to catch up.

Advancing to the MCT final has been an automatic event for the Mendham players. It’s almost a birthright. The last time the Minutemen failed to advance to the title game some of their current players were still in Kindergarten. Making the big game hasn’t diminished in importance over the years– it has grown.

“It means everything,’’ Salerno said. “It is something that we strive for each year. We’ve been in it for the past 10 years I would say, so it’s a big deal for us to keep coming 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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