O.C. heading back to state title game, again
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The difference between an average team and a team that competes for championships every season is the ability to take a punch.
Ocean City took an uppercut to the jaw early in Thursday night's showdown with Moorestown in the Group 3 semifinals at Egg Harbor Township High School, and while the Red Raiders staggered, they never went down.
Nicki Dadino scored off Moorestown's third straight corner less than six minutes into the game to get the Quakers — who lost to Ocean City in last year's Group 3 semifinals — off to a great start, but Julia Herrington blasted the game-tying goal from just inside the circle with 11:07 left in the first half. With 15:21 remaining in the game, fellow senior Nicholl Fenton scored off a corner, and Ocean City held on for a gritty 2-1 victory that propels the Red Raiders into their fifth consecutive state championship game.
"We knew going in this was going to be a huge game. Moorestown had most of its team returning, and so did we, so we knew it was going to be a challenge. Ali (Collins) is a phenomenal coach, they are always a great program. So I wasn't surprised at all that they scored. I was disappointed because our girls said they came out flat in the first couple of minutes, and that was kind of their demise last year in the state final (loss to Warren Hills). I'm glad it happened today, so hopefully Saturday they won't come out flat," said Ocean City coach Cory Terry. "After that, though, I thought we completely dominated the pace of the game as far as the possession, the passing, the moving, and I don't think we generated enough efficient attack, but the few times we did, they executed, so I'm proud of the girls for that."
"It's awesome, especially senior year, it's do-or-die. I just couldn't imagine losing with this group of girls. States is where we are meant to be," Fenton said. "It was a shock to be down, but when Julia put that goal in, I knew there was no way we were losing this game. To see Julia get that pumped up, whether she was going to carry the team or we were all going to jump on board, we were going to win."
Herrington is one of the most dynamic shot takers from distance in South Jersey, and the Red Raiders (21-3) needed a big play from her to get back into the game and get their swagger back on offense. Coach Terry said coming up with big plays has been the hallmark of the second half of the season for Herrington.
"She has been climbing all season, and she's stepped it up another gear the second half of the season," Terry said. "We have different headbands we give out for players of the game, and I gave her the attack one, because as soon as she scored that goal we snapped out of whatever it was we were in. I think that was huge for snapping us out of that funk we were in the first few minutes. Julia has just been phenomenal for us."
The state championship game, scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m. at Bordentown High School, will be a bit like the movie "Groundhog Day." Ocean City will meet Warren Hills for the fifth consecutive time, as the Blue Streaks took down Freehold Borough 3-0 in the other semifinal. Ocean City won the title in 2012 and 2013 before Warren Hills captured the crown in 2014 and 2015.
Both Moorestown (16-4-1) and Ocean City came into the game ranked in the top 10 in the state, and it showed. The action was fast-paced and each team's stick skills were impressive, as neither team was really able to mount consistent offensive threats in the second half. But Ocean City got the goal it needed when Fenton converted on a corner halfway through the second half. The Red Raiders' defense, led by players such as Issy Gilhooley, Megan Keenan, Phoebe Prettyman, Grace Steele and Britney Stein, did an excellent job clearing the ball in front of sophomore goalie Maddie Kahn, who finished with six saves. Her counterpart, Moorestown goalie Lauren Pickul, also played well, registering nine saves.
"I love Maddie. She fits in so well with us crazy people," Fenton said. "It's so nice having someone back there who you know will be there for you no matter what."
Fenton said Herrington's goal provided a huge momentum swing for the Red Raiders.
"Julia is one of our go-to girls. The way she reacted after getting that goal got us all pumped up. It was really cool," Fenton said.
"I tell these girls all the time, 'I think I believe in you more than you believe in you.' They look at me like I'm nuts, but they have so much potential," Terry said. "I think they have literally just scratched the surface a few times throughout the season. We've had some great competition, but they have to believe it and they have to feel it, and I think they started feeling that and recognizing that tonight."
Ocean City players know what kind of challenge awaits on Saturday night. For now, they'll enjoy the win that gives them a chance to play for another state title.
"It's crazy. It's so much fun and the school, everyone is so supportive," Fenton said. "Everyone knows we want this so bad and it's our year, no one else can do it for us. It's us 11 seniors, do-or-die."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays