CHATHAM, NJ - There was an 80-second span late in the first half when the Glen Ridge girls lacrosse team put the game in doubt, scoring three straight goals to threaten Chatham's lead.
But when Schuyler Bixby connected off a pinpoint pass from Bridget Ballard with 13 seconds to go, the Lady Cougars took a two-goal lead into the break and regrouped for a dominating second half that produced an 18-9 home-opening victory on Wednesday at Haas Field.
"We know we work well together," Ballard said. "Schuyler is a dynamic player and she can get open whenever we need her to."
Bixby scored three goals in the first half, all on passes from Ballard, but the biggest was the one in the waning seconds when she caught Ballard's feed and scored to make it 9-7 for Chatham.
"It's a great play our coaches came up with where I come off a screen and I'm open," Bixby said. "Bridget found me a lot. Most of my goals were off of feeds inside. I think that's what we're really good at. We can actually see the other player coming off a pick.
"In the second half, we just needed to focus on defense and keep our composure on offense, and that's exactly what we did and we ended up pulling through and getting a 9-goal lead."
Chatham's offense was clicking so well that coach Hilary Renna spent most of the halftime talking about the defense. It was definitely a factor in the second half.
"We weren't playing defense like we usually know how we can play," Ballard said. "Our coach said we have 25 minutes to make a difference and play the game we know how to play, especially on D. That's what we really wanted to focus on. I think our defense in the second half was a big game-changer. Communication is the key to defense and we needed to talk to each other more."
Ballard may have played her best all-around game of the season for Chatham (4-0), collecting five goals and six assists, while controlling four draws.
Sophomore Bixby, who finished with three goals and an assist, sparked the second-half surge for Chatham when she fed Maggie O'Neill for a goal that boosted the lead to 10-7.
After Tess Howland connected for Glen Ridge (2-1), Emily Wingate (4 goals, 2 assists) and Alex Frenzel (2 goals) netted consecutive goals for Chatham before Ballard took the game over. Ballard netted two straight unassisted goals, the latter a sprint to the goal that she finished with a high shot for a 14-9 lead.
Wingate then bounced in a shot off a pass from O'Neill. Ballad and Morgan Sullivan followed with a pretty give-and-go. Ballard threw it to Sullivan and then cut to the net, scoring off the return pass for a 16-9 advantage.
One sequence in the first half provided an example of how Chatham has been sharing the ball this season. O'Neill came up with a ground ball on the defensive end and the Lady Cougars quickly moved the ball up field with consecutive passes that went from O'Neill to Ballard to Bixby to Wingate and finally to Beth Kuyk, who scored.
"Our attack had been playing great the whole game and it was our defense that needed to step it up and play like a unit and not so individually," Renna said.
Junior goalie Gislina Saul was credited with 10 saves for Chatham, coming up big on a number of occasions.
"We had two games where our defense didn't get tested a lot," Renna said. "The first half shined a light on some things we need to work on and what we'll be doing at practice the next few days."
Bridget Ballard scores a free position goal in the first half for Chatham