PITTSGROVE TOWNSHIP — The youthful Middle Township High School field hockey team showed poise and intensity for 80 minutes Friday but fell just short of winning its second straight South Jersey Group I title.
Middle (12-9-1), which started four freshman and two sophomores, matched Schalick the whole way during two scoreless halves and two overtime periods of field play. Play went end to end the whole time, but the defenses allowed few shots.
But Schalick (13-6-3) dominated the penalty strokes round to win. The Cougars scored on all four shots, while Schalick freshman goalie Calli Ellison made two saves out of three chances against the Middle shooters. Middle freshman Lexie Frank scored. But Ellison made a stick save on a shot by Maggie Fossett and a pad save on Panthers freshman Kate Herlihy.
It was the third South Jersey title in Schalick history. The Cougars also won in 2009 and 2011. Middle won its first sectional title last year, beating Schalick 7-2.
“Nobody thought we’d be here in the final, and many said we were lucky to get the No. 4 seed,” Middle Township coach Janina Perna said.
“The game was about even because our two teams play a very similar game. We shoot the ball upfield and try to move it into space. They tried to hit it into space. I think we had more opportunities in overtime; we just didn’t connect. My goalie (Julia Mallett) came up huge in overtime.”
Mallett made four saves during field play, including two in the second overtime. Her second stop in OT was on a shot from right in front. Mallett went down after the stop and there was a scramble in front of the Middle net, but the ball was cleared.
Middle’s young players have been a big story this year, but the Panthers will lose six seniors, including starters Fossett, Kallie Leonik, Emily Kelly and Carly Gombar, to graduation.
“We have six seniors who have been leaders since they were freshmen,” Perna said. “The young girls say things like, ‘I want to be as good as Kallie (Leonik)’ and ‘I want to be like Maggie (Fossett)’. That’s the legacy that they’ll leave, and we’ll continue to build from.”
Leonik said this was her first game decided on penalty strokes.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” said Leonik, an 18-year-old forward from Cape May Court House. “I think we played a good game. It’s crazy that there were no goals.
“People doubted us all season. But from the time we started practicing and playing six months ago, we believed that we’d make it back (to the S.J. final).”
Schalick will meet Central Jersey champion Haddonfield (20-3) on Tuesday in a state semifinal at a time and site to be determined. Haddonfield beat Haddon Township 4-0 Friday.
“I think they played the game of the season today,” Schalick coach Heather Cheesman said of her players. “They played so well, win or lose.
“We practice strokes all the time just for this reason. This week, we’ve practiced them every day. I so proud of the girls. You could tell they were tired, but they pulled it out.”
Middle Township 0 0 0 0—0
Schalick 0 0 0 0—0
Schalick wins 4-1 on penalty strokes
Goalies—Mallett (4). Ellison (2) S.
Records—MT 12-9-1; S 13-6-3.