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Mainland field hockey beats O.C. for first time since 2013

LINWOOD — Mainland Regional field hockey coach Jill Hatz said throughout the preseason that she had a talented team she believes can make some noise in South Jersey Group 3 this season. On Monday, her players got a big shot of confidence when the Mustangs took down rival and defending overall Group 3 state champion Ocean City for the first time since 2013.

After a scoreless first half, the Mustangs and Red Raiders traded goals before Brianna Barretta poked a loose ball into the back of the cage with 13:41 remaining to score what would turn out to be the decisive goal in a 2-1 Mainland victory. The last time Ocean City had lost to a Cape-Atlantic League team prior to Monday was on Sept. 30, 2013, back when Mainland’s current seniors were in eighth grade. The last time Mainland beat Ocean City was 10 days before the win by EHT during the 2013 season.

“Really, it was a whole team thing. It started with (goalie Michaela) Brady clearing it and Robin (Spector) getting it up the line, and I was just there to finish. I knew I had to do it for the rest of the team and keep everybody up. You kind of freak out sometimes against Ocean City, but you just have to keep talking and making sure everyone is on the same page and confident we can do it,” said Barretta, a senior. “We knew we had the ability going in. We have a lot of seniors and throughout the years we’ve really bonded as a team. We knew if we stayed strong and kept our mind to it we can beat any team we go up against. You don’t come out here expecting (to beat Ocean City) but deep down you know you can do it, and being able to do it with a team I’m so close with is an amazing feeling.”

“It feels great to beat them,” said Brady, a sophomore who earned her first varsity win at Mainland by stopping eight shots. “I’ve heard so many things about (this rivalry). My cousins went (to Ocean City) and played on the field hockey team, and they were like, ‘we’re going to beat you.’ But we beat them. I’m kind of surprised.”

The game was dominated by good defense and the teams went into halftime scoreless, although Ocean City had many more opportunities on the offensive end. For the game, the Red Raiders had 17 corners to Mainland’s two, but the Mustangs’ defense of Spector, Amanda Dearborn, Samantha Murphy and Gab Santiago held strong.

“Gab, this is her first varsity game and she did great, and Sam is a good leader for our defense. She knows what she’s doing and where she needs to be at all times, and Amanda is fast and knows how to get where she needs to get. They are just great together,” Brady said.

Santiago got Mainland (1-0) on the board with 24:11 left in the second half when she scored off a corner, but Ocean City (1-1) — coming off a 6-0 win over Absegami last Thursday that was new head coach Kelsey Mitchell’s first win — evened things up five minutes later when Haleigh Flukey found the back of the cage off an assist from Reese Bloomstead and Tara McNally. After Barretta’s tally, Ocean City poured on the pressure offensively, but couldn’t get enough good looks to score the tying goal.

“There are lots of smiles and excitement — and a headache from yelling so much. The biggest thing we take away from this is not the win, but the confidence for our girls. I’ve been telling them all along they have something special, and hopefully this proves it to them and they start believing it,” said Mainland coach Jill Hatz. “We’re big on defense. You have to be able to play from the front of the line all the way to the back. What helped us today was our transition game on top of that. You have to come up with the ball, but we also did something with it. We wanted to possess the ball, pass, just play the type of game we play against every other team. It was just a matter of executing at a quicker speed and with better accuracy against a team like Ocean City.”

Spector said the Mustangs had no illusions of Ocean City rolling over after getting down 2-1. Mainland fully expected the Red Raiders to turn up the intensity in the final 10 minutes.

“They are really skilled. We usually go man-to-man, but this game we went with a zone, so everyone had their own stations to defend. People would stay in their spots, except one person would go around and double the ball wherever it was,” Spector said. “Usually, against most teams, when we score a goal we shut them down and they get nervous, but this team, we knew if we came out and score a goal they were going to come at us even harder. We knew after the first goal we scored that we had to step it up even more. We knew they were going to be really physical, so we had to keep our cool and make sure that no matter what we were playing our game. We wanted to set the tone for the season, and I think that’s what we did with this win.”

Hatz said she hopes her players realize what a big win this is for the program, since Ocean City has won three state championships in the last five years, but by the same token, it’s still early September and she wants them to remain focused on tough opponents coming in.

“I think our girls understand (how big of a win this is), but I don’t want to get into their heads too much, I kind of just want them to stay focused on the next game,” Hatz said. “I just told them to keep playing. I told them beforehand, no matter what happens they have to keep playing hard, no matter what the score is, and I think they had enough confidence built up that they weren’t going to let that one goal affect them, and they didn’t.”

Said Barretta, “We just beat Ocean City, and that’s a crazy feeling, but we just have to keep working harder and harder. We just have to keep getting better the next game. We wanted to show everyone what we are capable of this year.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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