The Ocean City High School field hockey team had a good second half of the season and won the South Jersey Group III championship. Now the Red Raiders face a familiar next step, the program's 12th state semifinal game.
Ocean City (17-5), the defending state Group III champion and ranked fifth in The Press Elite 11, plays Central Jersey champion Allentown at 6 p.m. today in a state Group III semifinal game at neutral Robbinsville High School in Mercer County. Allentown, of Monmouth County, is 19-1.
The winner plays the North Jersey champion (either Northern Highlands or Warren Hills) at noon Saturday in the state Group III championship game at Toms River East High School.
Ocean City beat host Mainland Regional 1-0 on a goal by Leah Davies in the South Jersey final on Monday. Allentown beat Moorestown, the Elite 11's No. 3 team, 1-0 in the Central Jersey title game.
"The girls are excited and ready," Ocean City coach Cory Terry said. "We don't know much about Allentown, but we know that they're an aggressive team with a good goalie. It's the playoffs and you have to show up and give it everything no matter who we play."
Davies scored in overtime as Ocean City beat Moorestown 3-2 last year at Egg Harbor Township in the state Group III semifinal. O.C. blanked Warren Hills 2-0 two days later in the state final.
Senior Davies leads the Raiders with 21 goals, while junior Kelly Hanna has 20 goals, and two-way defender Lauren McNally has 16. O.C. also gets scoring from Rialee Allen, Jordan Allegretto and Julia Herrington. Ocean City's midfield and defense are solid with April Stein, Rachael Young, Abby Lyons, Julie Campbell, Izzy Gilhooley and Caroline Bowman. Goalie Sarita Charap has 12 shutouts.
"I have no doubt that we're 100 percent capable of playing well enough to win this game and the final," said Hanna, 16, an Upper Township resident. "We'll have to bring our intensity and play to our full potential. I know we can do it."
Ocean City started at 5-3, with losses to rivals Mainland Regional and Egg Harbor Township. But the Red Raiders are 8-1 in their last nine games. They beat Mainland 6-0 and EHT 1-0 in regular-season rematches.
"It has definitely been a journey with ups and downs, but we got it together and proved we're capable," Hanna said. "These (playoff games with non-area teams) are normally the most competitive. I never even heard of Allentown, but we have a little scouting report, and we have some idea what we're up against."
Allentown and Ocean City have no common opponents. The Redbirds get scoring from Maura McNutt (who had the goal against Moorestown), Kayla Peterson, Cassidy Troy and Paige Zytowicz. Hayley Peterson is the goalie.
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State Group III field hockey semifinal
Ocean City (17-5) vs. Allentown (19-1)
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Robbinsville High School