LINWOOD — The prelude to Hurricane Sandy on Sunday morning featured an ominous gray sky and a wind that promised to blow stronger in due time.
There also was a field hockey game.
While southern New Jersey prepared for the storm, drivers passing by on Route 9 past Mainland Regional High School might hardly have believed their eyes as the Mustangs played Hammonton in a South Jersey Group III quarterfinal game.
After getting outplayed for nearly the whole first half, Mainland scored two goals in the final 30 minutes to win 2-0. Mustangs senior Caity McDonnell fired in the go-ahead goal on a penalty stroke and sophomore teammate Sami Lopez added an insurance goal.
Mainland, the fourth seed in South Jersey Group III, improved to 12-7-1. Hammonton, seeded fifth, ended its season 10-9.
The Mustangs advance to meet top-seeded Ocean City, the third-ranked team in The Press Elite 11, on Friday in a semifinal game. The Red Raiders (17-1) beat the Mustangs twice during the regular season, 7-0 and 4-0.
“We didn’t play well in the first half, and at halftime I told them basically to take a deep breath, focus and play like you can play,” Mainland’s interim coach Laura Siteman said.
The teams had decided to play one day early rather than face what they correctly believed would be a certain postponement today.
“I’ve been watching the storm for four days now and I’ve been nervous,” Siteman said. “At first I didn’t want to play (early) because I wanted to be prepared for the storm. But it was a good distraction to get the game in. We were ready. Better today than (to go) a week with no practices. Now we can refocus on the storm.”
Siteman was the Mustangs’ head coach from 2000-06 and has been an assistant coach this season. She took over as interim head coach when Jill Hatz gave birth to daughter Raylee on Oct. 8. Hatz was on the sidelines holding her daughter.
Hammonton’s Courtney Aquino dominated the game in the first half, but Mainland’s Amanda Ryan made six saves to keep it scoreless. But Aquino, a 26-goal scorer this year, was hit in the head by the ball with less than two minutes gone in the second half. She came out of the game with a cut on the top of her head and didn’t return.
A Mainland shot hit a Hammonton defender’s foot as the ball neared the goal, and a penalty stroke was called 3 minutes, 21 seconds into the second half.
McDonnell took the stroke and sent a quick shot into the left side of the cage for a 1-0 lead.
“It was my first penalty stroke in a game, and I was really nervous,” said McDonnell, a 17-year-old senior. “The first goal helped to get us started passing better.”
The game went back and forth, and Lopez hit the left goalpost with a shot with 23:40 left.
Lopez got another chance with 6:04 left. She took a pass from Erin O’Connell and blasted one into the right corner for a 2-0 lead.
“I didn’t mind playing today,” said Lopez, 15. “At first you were thinking about the hurricane, but during the game you forgot about it. We played hard as a team and got the job done.”
Ryan made 10 saves for her ninth shutout of the year. McDonnell also made a defensive save with three minutes left.
“We played well today, but we didn’t cover the pads (stay near goalie Ryan for chances to score),” said Hammonton coach Rosie Santiago. “We needed to be in front because she’s a good goalie. The game turned around when Courtney got hurt. She’ll probably need stitches. She’s a big part of our team.”
Contact Guy Gargan:
Hammonton 0 0—0
Mainland Regional 0 2—2
Goals—McDonnell, Lopez M.
Goalies—Plummer (3) H. Ryan (10) M.
Records—Mainland 12-7-1; Hammonton 10-9.