The turf field at Watchung School in Montclair hosted a New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) State quarterfinal match between Montclair High School and Westfield high school's field hockey teams on Friday afternoon. Heading into this NJSIAA Quarterfinal, Montclair (16-4) was the first seed in North Jersey's Group Four section, while Westfield (12-7-1) was ninth. As a result, Westfield's head coach Corinne Varley would say after the match that her team "came into this knowing we had everything to gain."
In addition, Westfield was already familiar with Montclair because they had suffered a 5-0 loss at home against them in their season opener. However, a long time has passed since the season began for either of these teams and this loss from the beginning of the season must have been bulletin board material for the visitors heading into a win-or-go-home contest with the top-seeded team in North Jersey's Group four.
First Half Events
In the first half of this NJSIAA Group four quarterfinal, Montclair nor Westfield could find a way to break down each other's defense. One large reason that Westfield did not concede in the early goings was the play of their goaltender, Lauren McDonough, who stopped every shot Montclair generated during the opening half.
During the middle of the second quarter, the hosts began to generate more offensive chances. At one point, the Mounties earned three corners in a row but were unable to score on any of them. Halfway through the second quarter, Montclair sophomore Lily Donohue suffered an injury and was subbed off the field, never to return.
One way to look at the matchup was that Westfield had an experience advantage. The Devils had four more upperclassmen than Montclair. This was probably why Westfield's backline (which has three seniors) found a way to stop Montclair's offense which was led by Meghan Crane, who led the Mounties with 19 goals during the regular season, from scoring despite being outshot.
Westfield Field Hockey Breaks the Deadlock
The first half was a gritty midfield battle and each team's defense held their opponent scoreless in the first half. Yet, Montclair earned two quality scoring chances shortly after the third quarter began. Westfield's defense held firm because their players won one-on-one battles inside their defensive area and their goalie, McDonough made save after save to keep the Mounties off the scoreboard.
Six minutes into the third quarter, the Blue Devils earned a corner. After it was taken, their sophomore forward Emma Blake scored to make sure the visitors took the first lead of this playoff game. Just four minutes later, Westfield senior forward Ella McLean picked up a rebound ten yards from goal, wheeled around and scored to stretch Westfield's lead to two.
As this playoff quarterfinal headed into the fourth quarter, Montclair's head coach MP Mercuro made a few substitutions, trying desperately to spark her team's offense but no matter how the Mounties moved their pieces on the field, Westfield continued to outplay the top-seeded hosts. The coup-de-grace came in the fourth quarter when the referee awarded a penalty shot to the visitors. McLean stepped up and confidently scored the penalty shot, her second of the game, to seal an upset victory for Westfield High School field hockey over top-seeded Montclair.
Montclair High School Field Hockey's senior goalie kept Westfield off the scoreboard in the first half but was not able to in the second half. Montclair suffered two injuries to senior defender Lindsey Martin and sophomore Lily Donohue in the first half. Westfield used this to their advantage by scoring three goals in the second half and behind their own strong defensive play, Westfield earned an upset, shutout win in the state quarterfinals over the same team that beat them on their home turf in their first game of the season.
Montclair's head coach MP Mercuro described why her top-seeded team was knocked out of the state tournament by a team that was not state-ranked for the first time all season.
"We had our chances, but we couldn't break through. They're a really nice team and [it hurt that] we had two defenders out, Lindsey Martin and Lily Donohue but we didn't score, and I think [our opponents] played phenomenal.
In contrast, Westfield celebrated a massive win in North Jersey's Group 4 quarterfinals on the road, where the visitors benefitted from the leadership of their seniors. This includes their captain, Julia Schneider who contributed two assists and also senior Ella McLean, who scored two goals which included a penalty shot in the second half. Additionally, Westfield's senior goalie, Lauren McDonough shut out a top-seeded Montclair team and their highest-scoring forward Meghan Crane.
After the game, Westfield High head coach Corinne Varhley discussed how being underdogs and the opportunity to face a team that they had already faced helped her team on Friday.
My team was relentless today. We came into this knowing that we had everything to gain, and they had everything to lose," Varhley said. "The last time we faced Montclair, we were a completely different team so and we showed that today. Our team came together, our defense was outstanding, and our goalie Lauren played very well. I couldn't be happier with our performance.
Looking at what happened in the match between Phillipsburg and East Brunswick, which determined which team will face Westfield in the semi-finals, Phillipsburg won and will face Westfield. This means Westfield will have to upset a team that is ranked fifth in their bracket to advance to the final but after defeating the top-seed, this should not matter to Coach Varhley's team when they travel to Phillipsburg for their semi-final match, four days from now.
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