Middletown South strikes late to up end Colts Neck

Colts Neck, N.J. - Deadlocked at 0-0 going into the final six minutes of regulation, the Colts Neck and Middletown South field hockey teams were both desperately looking for that breakthrough goal to lead to a victory. Tuesday’s showdown between the top two teams of the Shore Conference-A North Division saw the Eagles clutch victory from the hands of the defending North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 champions.

With 5:28 left to play, Kelsey O’Keefe found herself at the right place at the right time. In the middle of a scrum in front of the Colts Neck cage, O’Keefe was able to poke in the loose ball to break the scoreless tie and ultimately lead the Eagles to a 1-0 victory over Colts Neck.

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“I didn’t think it was me at first until my teammates came rushing towards me to celebrate,” O’Keefe said on her game-winning goal. “It’s awesome and crazy at the same time.”

Brilliant goalie play and terrific was the name of the game all afternoon long.

Middletown South looked to get on the board in first few minutes of the contest, but a nice sliding save by Colts Neck goalie Stephanie LoNano kept it at 0-0.

LoNano had two saves in the first half as the Colts Neck defense did a great job halting the Eagles’ offense from crossing midfield for most of the half.

On the other side of the field in the cage for the Eagles was Sam Messina and the senior had her A-game working for Middletown South.

Messina made a terrific diving save on a shot by Colts Neck’s Emma Cleary in the front of the cage and then got right back up and knocked away another shot by Taylor Schandall to keep the game scoreless.

“I just felt my body going down on the first save and went with it and used my stick to knock it away,” Messina said. “I then got right back up and saw their player was going to try and lift the ball over and was I ready to get it out of the there.”

The senior had four saves in the first half for the Eagles.

Messina came up big time and time again for Middletown South in the second half, including making two big-time saves on grand scoring opportunities by the Cougars to keep it a scoreless contest with 15 minutes left to play.

The senior finished with a game-high 10 saves in the cage.

“We didn’t do a good job moving their goalie around and putting shots on the corner,” said Colts Neck head coach Maria Merlucci.

Being held in check by the Colts Neck defense for mostly all of the first 20 minutes of the second half, the Middletown South offense finally got themselves moving into Cougars territory in the final 10 minutes.

With getting a penalty corner inside the Colts Neck zone with under six minutes remaining, the Eagles offense capitalized on the opportunity. Following a shot by teammate Cassie Guerrera that LoNano knocked, O’Keefe gained control of the loose ball in front of the cage and the junior was able shoot in her first ever game-winning goal to give Middletown South its 14th win of the season.

“I saw the ball and knew this was it and just hit towards the cage,” O’Keefe said. “Feel pretty confident after scoring that goal.”

At a stellar (14-1) on the season, Middletown South will sure earn one of the top seeds in the upcoming Shore Conference Tournament.

“We have a solid team and we have shown this season that we can play with the best out there in the state,” said Middletown South coach Jordan Hickman.

LoNano had a total of five saves in the loss for Colts Neck.

The loss drops the Cougars to (8-3-1) on the season and it’s the second straight game that Colts Neck has not scored a goal.

“We’re a tough team, but we’re having trouble scoring right now,” Merlucci said. “We’re a young team. We have a lot of the season to go though to figure stuff out.”

Colts Neck will look to stop its two-game slide when they travel to play Freehold Borough on Friday. That same day, Middletown South will host Howell.


Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports