South Jersey Sports Report: ‘Golden Goal’ Lifts Mainland to Semis
LINWOOD — Not many high school teams have a player like Camryn Dirkes, who from the very start of her career — which began last fall, as she’s only now a sophomore — has thrived in the most pressure-packed situations. Playoffs, overtime, the Meet of Champions in track, a state championship game in basketball. Doesn’t matter what the stakes are, coaches at Mainland Regional know that if you want to have a chance to win a big game, make sure Dirkes is right in the middle of all the action.
Halfway through the second overtime period on Thursday afternoon in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals, and with a PK shootout looming, Dirkes corralled a throw-in from junior Anna Paytas, somehow dribbled her way through two Lacey Township defenders and ripped a shot past a diving Nicole Coraggio to give Mainland a 3-2 victory with a “Golden Goal.” The shot was just out of the reach of Coraggio, who had made some tremendous saves on corner kicks late in regulation to help send the game into overtime.
“We talked about it before this game, that I should be checking over to those throw-ins. I didn’t see anybody checking me so I figured I might as well try it. I went over there and somehow got by those two girls and just tried to get a shot on goal,” said Dirkes, who was the starting point guard for the Mainland basketball team that won the Group 3 state championship in March and also made it to the track and field Meet of Champions as a javelin thrower.
“She’s already had the stress of playing in a state title game (in basketball) and also the Meet of Champions in track, so having her experience as only a sophomore is kind of nice to see. She never wants to come off the field,” added Mainland coach Chris Connolly.
The Mustangs (14-6) struck first with a pair of early goals in the first half, using a strong wind blowing toward the west goal to their advantage. Just five minutes in Dirkes shot from distance and nailed the crossbar, but less than two minutes later senior Gina Geraci ripped a shot from about 25 yards out that deflected off a Lacey defender and into the goal for a 1-0 lead. About nine minutes later, Dirkes squirted a ball through that Julia Kaes finished for a 2-0 advantage.
The Lions (7-11-2) had the wind at their backs in the second half, however, and knotted the score at 2 thanks to a pair of goals from senior captain Kelly Weaver. Less than five minutes in she took a pass from Julianna Rettino and drilled a shot into the upper right corner, then less than seven minutes later she ran under a through ball for a one-v.-one situation with Mainland keeper Katie Bretones and put one in to tie the game.
“Mistakes happen, and ours unfortunately cost us two goals as they were able to capitalize. But we wanted to play hard for the seniors and try to get (a goal) back. We knew if we didn’t win they would be upset,” Dirkes said.
“Unfortunately, that was everything we were planning against at halftime. We discussed all of that — that we can’t let calls, wind or our mistakes let them get back into the game. I hate being right, but I have to give credit to our girls, they never once gave up. It was an ugly game — kind of like what they say in the NFL, an ugly game won is still a game won, so, thankfully we held it together,” Connolly said. “I thought it was a good game defensively from (Lacey), they took away a lot of the things we do well, and can do well. But even with the mistakes we made, I’m proud of the girls for never giving up. Lacey had two corner kicks where they could have scored on us. They were a good team, but I was proud of our girls for their effort.”
Midway through the second half Mainland lost starting forward Sage Glover to injury, but players like Geraci, Meghan Pellegrino, Paytas, Kaes, Jane Meade and Serena D’Anna really stepped up in the midfield and on defense.
“Serena is a tough player for us, she’s banged up a little bit but she always gives a great effort. Losing Sage was tough, but Meghan coming back in her second game — she was out for three weeks with an injury — it was nice to have her come back and play well,” Connolly said.
“Our main goal when we were fighting against the wind was to stay mentally tough, continue to play our game, keep the ball on the ground and just play together as a team,” said Pellegrino, whose twin brother, Ryan, will lead the Mainland boys against Seneca at 2 p.m. on Friday in Mainland’s quarterfinal matchup. “We have Gina back there and she’s been playing great, she’s been saving us back there so we’re thankful to have her.”
The Mustangs now turn their attention to a road game at 2 p.m. on Monday against No. 2 GCIT, which beat No. 10 Hammonton, 3-1. On the other side of the bracket, top-seeded Ocean City beat No. 8 Cherry Hill West, 1-0, while No. 5 Toms River South upset No. 4 Toms River East in a penalty-kick shootout after a scoreless tie.
“No matter who we play, seeds don’t really matter, we just come out here and give it everything we have because you never know what can happen,” Pellegrino said. “We’re just pushing through right now. We’re at our peak point right now and we’re playing good soccer.”
Added Connolly, “Being in the semifinals is nice, there are only four teams left in South Jersey Group 3 and we’ll be playing the No. 2 seed. We’re banged up, we’ve been playing a lot of soccer lately and our starters have been playing a ton of minutes. So we’ll touch the ball as much as we can on Saturday then have them rest up and get back on the horse (Monday). I think the biggest thing is getting them healthy.”
What’s next: Lacey’s season is over. Mainland travels to GCIT on Monday at 2 p.m. in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays