Middletown, N.J. - A determined Middletown South field hockey team took the field on Tuesday afternoon with one goal in mind, to clinch a spot in the finals of the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 Tournament for the second straight season.
Looking to avenge their loss in last year’s finals against Millburn, the No. 1 seeded Eagles got the revenge they wanted by storming back from a one-goal deficit to beat No. 4 seed Millburn 2-1.
“The goal for our girls from the start of the preseason was to make it back to the finals,” said Middletown South field hockey coach Jordan Hickman. “These girls felt they needed to serve justice for our seniors that graduated last year for the tough loss to Millburn in the finals. The girls stepped up and came together. I couldn’t be prouder of them for what they have accomplished so far this season.”
The go-ahead goal for Middletown South came within the first five minutes of the second half off a corner opportunity.
After receiving the corner pass from teammate Madison Cigolini, junior Lia Simoniello sent a pass that was tipped to the front of the cage, which luckily for the Eagles, landed right in front of senior Kelsey O’Keefe.
Corralling the loose ball, O’Keefe spun around and fired home her 11th goal of the season to give Middletown South its first lead of the game.11th goal of the season to give Middletown South its first lead of the game.
“It was so surreal,” O’Keefe said. “I didn’t know if was going to go in or not. It was just insane when I saw it go in. It feels great to set a goal at the beginning of the season as a team and personally and accomplish it. Especially as a senior, it feels really great to accomplish that.”
Middletown South found itself in a 1-0 hole right around the halfway point of the first half.
Millburn’s Meaghan Boehm scored her 32nd goal of the season to shoot the Millers in front for an early lead.
The one-goal deficit didn’t phase the Eagles, who continued to battle and search for a way to even up the contest.
That opportunity for Middletown South came with under five minutes to go in the first half.
As a scrum for the loose ball in front of the cage insumed, junior Kayla Freibott found herself in the right place at the right time to tie the game up for the Eagles.
Seeing the ball bounce off Millburn goalkeeper Sydney Kuehn’s pad, Freibott told herself that this was her moment to score and help her team get back in it.
The junior didn’t miss her chance to shine, diving to get the loose ball and tapping in the rebound to get Middletown South on the board with 4:27 till halftime.
“It felt amazing because I knew that once we got one in that it would give our team the momentum it needed to build on the rest of the way,” Freibott said. “It was an exhilarating feeling.”
Having a one-goal lead after O’Keefe’s goal, Middletown South dominated most of the action the rest of the game to earn their 17th victory of the season.
Junior Lauren Palmadesso had one save in the win for Middletown South. Kuehn had nine saves for Millburn in the loss.
The Eagles are now 17-3-1 on the season and have won four straight games.
Middletown South will host No. 2 Chatham in the sectional finals on Friday.
Revenge from last year’s finals loss in hand and achieving their goal of making it back to the sectional championship game, the focus now for Middletown South is solely on bringing home a championship.
Hickman believes her team has everything it takes to be champions and has a lot of momentum going into the finals from beating the defending champs.
“This win is a huge momentum builder for us going into the finals,” Hickman said. “We’re going to have to play the full 60 minutes and be ready to go. I think we can do it. I think we have the players and the heart to win it. We just have to show up.”
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