TOMS RIVER — Kelly Hanna faced a moment of indecision Saturday afternoon.
But with no time left on the clock, she almost had no choice but to take a shot at victory.
It ended up being one of the most thrilling moments in Ocean City High School field hockey history.
Hanna scored off a corner with no time left in double overtime to give the Red Raiders a 1-0 win over Warren Hills Regional in the state Group III title game at Toms River East.
“I took a second, and I just hit it in,” Hanna said. “I felt like everything was complete. I’m the happiest person in the world.”
Hanna’s goal gave Ocean City its ninth state championship and its second in a row. The Red Raiders (19-5) advance to the Tournament of Champions, which starts Monday.
“This is another part of Ocean City history,” Hanna said. “It’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Ocean City has won dramatic state championship games in the past. The Red Raiders won overtime games in the 2009 and 1999 state finals. But it would be tough to argue that any of those victories were more dramatic than Saturday’s win.
“Bottom line is we scored on a corner after time went out,” Ocean City coach Cory Terry said. “That’s insane.”
Saturday’s game remained scoreless through 60 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods.
Officials whistled a corner for Ocean City with one second left in double overtime. Time expired but field hockey rules stipulate that the corner must be played out.
Rialee Allen started the corner by passing to Hanna, who passed quickly to Lauren McNally. McNally took a few dribbles and then gave the ball back to Hanna, who briefly hesitated while deciding what to do next.
“I didn’t know if I should pass or if I should take a back swing,” Hanna said. “I didn’t know if I should shoot it lightly and maybe somebody else could tap it in. But I realized I was wide open.”
Instinct took over and Hanna blasted a shot from 10 yards out. A few seconds later the ball hit the back of the cage with a thud.
The Red Raiders tossed their sticks in the air. Hanna jumped into McNally’s arms. The Ocean City bench ran onto the field in celebration. Warren Hills (22-4-1) watched stunned.
Saturday’s game was even from the start. There were few scoring opportunities for either team.
“Warren Hills did a good job of stepping up and fronting us and intercepting a lot of balls,” Terry said. “It was difficult for us to get into our flow.”
There were more scoring chances in overtime as the teams played seven-on-seven in a sudden-death format. Normally, field hockey teams use 11 players, but only seven take the field in overtime to create more scoring opportunities.
“I felt like anything could happen,” Hanna said. “We were evenly matched. Every second, I wanted to burst out crying because I was so excited and nervous at the same time.”
Ocean City seemed to have a prime opportunity to win the game in the second overtime.
The Red Raiders received a penalty stroke with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left because the ball touched the hand of a Warren Hills defender.
Ocean City’s Rachael Young took the stroke. The crowd didn’t make a sound as Young prepared for the shot. Young shot and the ball could clearly be heard bouncing off the pads of Warren Hills goalie Taylor Austin. But the next sound heard was the cheers of the Warren Hills crowd.
The game remained scoreless, but fate seemed to be with Warren Hills.
Terry spoke to the Red Raiders during a timeout after the missed stroke.
“I told them this was going to give (Warren Hills) a lot of momentum,” Terry said. “I told them we couldn’t let them get that momentum off the ground. We needed to stay right on top of them.”
Still, Warren Hills nearly converted that momentum into the winning goal. Sydney Muntone broke in on Ocean City goalie Sarita Charap. Charap charged at Muntone. The goalie threw herself at the ball to make the save with 47 seconds left.
“I tried to do a slide tackle to take her out from underneath the ball,” Charap said. “I just wanted to get her off the ball.”
If Ocean City had not scored, the game and the state title would have been decided by penalty strokes.
Hanna’s goal is part of what could be the most unlikely state championship season in the program’s history. The Red Raiders usually dominate the regular season. They began this season with high hopes after beating Warren Hills 2-0 in last year’s state final.
But then Ocean City lost September games to Cape-Atlantic League rivals Mainland Regional and Egg Harbor Township. Ocean City also lost to South Jersey non-public contender Camden Catholic 6-2 on Sept. 28.
Those defeats caused many field hockey fans to discount the Red Raiders’ state championship chances.
“Last year everything came to us easy,” Hanna said. “This year there were ups and downs. Now we can look back and say we used that struggle to help make us a better team and we accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Warren Hills 0 0 0 0 – 0
Ocean City 0 0 0 1- 1
Goals — Hanna OC. Goalies Austin (eight saves) WH. Charap (10 saves) OC.
Records — Warren Hills 22-4-1; Ocean City 19-5