COLTS NECK, N.J. - One goal determined the outcome of the last two meetings between the Middletown South and Colts Neck field hockey teams and it was the same factor on Wednesday when the two met in a great Shore Conference A-North Division clash.
The two teams were equally matched throughout most of the game and headed into the final 10 minutes of regulation knotted up at 0-0.
The game still scoreless with under seven minutes to play, one team finally broke through for the game’s first and only score and it was the Middletown South Eagles, who off Lia Simoniello’s fifth goal of the season with 6:23 left to play were able to knock off the undefeated Cougars in a 1-0 victory for its sixth win of the season.
“We came into this game thinking we’re the defending A-North Division champs and we want to win,” said Middletown South field hockey coach Jordan Hickman. “This was a season goal for us to work up to these tough division games. They finished and I’m proud of them.”
Both teams had their chances to strike for a goal in the first half, with Middletown South having two key chances to score off a corner in the final two minutes of the half.
Colts Neck goalie Stephanie LoNano knocked away both of Middletown South’s scoring opportunities with great effort in front of the cage, scratching and clawing as she dove to the ground to keep the game scoreless going into halftime.
“I knew I wasn’t going to let that ball get in with a couple minutes left in the half,” LoNano said. “I couldn’t have done it without my defense. We have great defensive backs. They did a good job getting the ball off my pad and clearing it up the field.
LoNano finished with five saves in the contest for the Cougars.
Middletown South had its chances to score again midway through the second half, but couldn’t capitalize on any of its six corners in a span of a little over two minutes. Another missed chance followed with a shot just going wide left of the cage.
Getting control of the ball back down in the Colts Neck zone in the final seven minutes of play, the Eagles found a way to slap a shot into the cage and it came from the great effort of Simoniello in front of the goal.
After LoNano made a kick save on Kayla Freibott’s shot on goal, Simoniello was “johnny on the spot” to gain control of the rebound and fire a shot into the back of the cage to give Middletown South the lead.
“It feels amazing,” Simoniello said on her game-winning goal. “We were close all game. It was a very physical game, so to finally get that goal in was awesome. It was a team effort.”
Simoniello’s goal was only the second goal Colts Neck has given up this season.
The two teams battled back and forth in the final six minutes of action with the Eagles holding off Colts Neck to improve to 6-1 on the season.
It’s the fifth shutout of the season for Middletown South and the first time this season that Colts Neck as been held scoreless in a game.
Middletown South is on a five-game winning streak and is a perfect 4-0 in A-North Division play.
“We have over emphasized playing a full 60 minutes,” Hickman said. “We have been working a lot on keeping the ball out of our defensive circle and trying not to give up too many shots and corners. This win was a big confidence booster for us playing in our most competitive game of the season so far.”
Colts Neck drops to 5-1 on the season.
Battling tough in its first test of the season, Colts Neck field hockey coach Maria Merlucci feels her team played well and now know what they need to work on to be ready to face off against Middletown South again later on this season.
“I thought we were evenly matched, they just executed and we couldn’t get the ball in the net,” Merlucci said. “It was a great battle. I’m very pleased with how we’re playing. We just got to fix some things. There’s a lot of season left to play and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Both teams will be in action on Friday with Middletown South hosting Howell, while Colts Neck will travel to face Freehold Borough.
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports