EWING TOWNSHIP — The St. Joseph High School field hockey team made its second trip to the state final in three years Sunday morning.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the game unfolded in an all too familiar way.
Undefeated Oak Knoll overwhelmed St. Joe and won the state Group I championship 7-1 at the College of New Jersey. Emily DeMarco scored St. Joe’s only goal. Sunday’s game was a rematch of the 2010 state final, which Oak Knoll won 8-2.
“We knew what we were getting ourselves into,” said John DeMarco, St. Joe coach and Emily’s father. “We’ve known what (Oak Knoll) has done to their competition throughout the year.”
Oak Knoll (24-0) is a perennial power. Sunday was the Union County school’s fifth state title in the past seven years. The Royals dominated from the start Sunday.
Allison Sayia and Ryan McCarthy each scored three goals for the Royals. Oak Knoll outshot St. Joe 20-4. The Wildcats, No. 9 in The Press Elite 11 rankings, never stopped hustling, however.
“We played our hearts out,” Emily DeMarco said.
Oak Knoll scored just 56 seconds into the game when McCarthy passed to an open Sayia in front of the cage. Sayia tipped the ball into the empty cage to give Oak Knoll a 1-0 lead.
Oak Knoll kept the pressure up. But St. Joe (23-2) did not wilt. Wildcats goalie Becky Boffo made several outstanding saves. St. Joe defender Joanna Umosella blocked a shot in front of the cage.
“It was a lot of pressure, but I feel our defense really held up,” Boffo said. “We didn’t give up. I kept trying and trying. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough, but I definitely tried my best.”
Eventually, Oak Knoll’s constant pressure got to St. Joe. Sayia scored an unassisted goal with 13 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first half to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, St. Joe generated little offense. The Wildcats’ first corner came with 6:01 left in the first half.
Still at halftime, St. Joe felt encouraged because it only trailed by two goals.
But Oak Knoll ended any thoughts of a comeback with four goals in the first seven minutes of the second half.
“Once they got that third goal, I saw a little drop in our motivation,” John De-Marco said.
St. Joe’s only goal came three minutes into the second half. Emily DeMarco dribbled through Oak Knoll defenders and blasted the ball into the cage from 13 yards out.
Despite the defeat, St. Joe relished reaching the state final. The Group I title was one of four state championship games at the College of New Jersey on Sunday. The state’s best field hockey programs were represented.
“It’s just amazing,” Emily DeMarco said. “Even though we didn’t come out with a (win), we still made it here.”
Sunday’s game also concluded a stellar three-year stretch for the Wildcats, who are 65-6 since 2010.
There is also reason to be optimistic about the future. Thae Wildcats feature a strong junior class led by DeMarco.
The St. Joe field hockey program existed for 39 years before it reached its first state final (2010). Now, the Wildcats have been to the finals twice in three years.
“It took 30-something years to get here,” John DeMarco said. “Who knows? Next time might be our charm.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Oak Knoll 2 5—7
St. Joseph 0 1—1
Goals—McCarthy (3), Sayia (3), LammatteoOK. DeMarco SJ.
Goalies—Conway (0), Morris (3 saves) OK. Boffo (13 saves) SJ.
Records —Oak Knoll 24-0; St. Joseph 23-2