Middletown, N.J. - A comeback was in order for the Middletown South girls lacrosse team in its big Shore Conference showdown against Holmdel on Thursday afternoon.

Facing a two-goal deficit with under 13 minutes to play, the Eagles stormed back to win their third game in a row, seeing Caroline Harlow score two of her game-high three goals in the final nine minutes of the contest to lead Middletown South to a 8-7 victory over Holmdel.

“This was one of the biggest games of the season for us, and we played like it was,” said Middletown South girls lacrosse coach Devan Crimi. “Our kids battled tough all game. I couldn’t be prouder of how well we moved the ball and how we won as a team.”

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Middletown South and Holmdel were knotted up 5-5 at halftime, with the Hornets coming out strong in the second half to gain control of the action.

Off a nice feed by teammate Kinsey Clark, Erin Mendini slipped through the Middletown South defense and powered home her third goal of the contest to put Holmdel in the lead.

 

Clark joined Mendini in the hat trick circle moments later for the Hornets, extending the Holmdel lead to 7-5 off a nice dish from teammate Sam DiMaio.

Holmdel was in control and with the Eagles unable to get their offense going, seeing Hornets goalkeeper Jess Boetticher save two open looks on net, Middletown South had its work cut out for them to rally back.

However, Middletown South got its groove going with under 13 minutes left to play as Haley Nicholas got the rally underway for the Eagles.

Driving straight to the net, Nicholas banged home her second goal of the game to cut the deficit to one with 12:33 left to play.

Nicholas finished with two goals and a team-high two assists in the contest.

“I knew we needed to keep the momentum going after winning the last two games,” Nicholas said. “I tried to score when I needed to. We all stepped up and succeeded in the win.”

Trailing by one still with under 10 minutes now to play, the connection of Caroline Harlow and Kelsey Naclerio fueled the rest of the Middletown South comeback.

At first missing the pass from Nicholas behind the net, Naclerio settled herself by getting the ball and threw a perfect pass to Harlow in front of the net for the sophomore to score her second goal of the contest to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:51 left to play.

Moments later, Naclerio found Harlow open again around the net and again the sophomore delivered for Middletown South by securing the hat trick to put the Eagles up 8-7.

“I saw I had an opening to go to the net and score as our team moved the ball around the net each time,” Harlow said. “Feels great to help the team win and get a hat trick.”

Still with over seven minutes left to play, the game was far from over with both teams battling tooth and nail the rest of the way.

Middletown South was able to waste a good two minutes off the clock by gaining possession with just under four minutes to play and held control of the ball with 1:39 to go.

Holmdel was able to force a turnover to get the ball back moments later, but turned it over themselves in transition down the field.

Middletown South cuffed up another turnover when trying to get the ball across midfield with 20 seconds left to play. The turnover however, didn’t bother the Eagles again as they were able to hold off a last attempt by Holmdel to improve to 10-5 on the season.

Christine Ryan scored two goals in the contest for Middletown South, while teammate Alyson Panick had a goal scored of her own in the win.

Middletown South goalkeeper Christine Nelson had five saves in net.

The Eagles have won six of their last seven games. Middletown South will next play in its first ever Shore Conference Tournament contest on Saturday.

“People are realizing that our team is doing a really good job,” Nicholas said. “This is a huge deal for us. We’re not on the map yet. We have never made it into the Shore Conference Tournament before. We have a new coach this year and everything on the team is fresh with new players and everything. We’re all excited about playing in the tournament.”

DiMaio finished with two assists and a goal scored for Holmdel in the loss. Boetticher had five saves in net for the Hornets.

The loss ends Holmdel’s five game winning streak and drops them to 8-5 on the season. Holmdel is 5-2 in its last seven games.

The Hornets will look to bounce back when they open up Shore Conference Tournament play on Saturday.

“We played really hard against a good team after playing three games in four days,” said Holmdel girls lacrosse coach Sal Guastella. “We’ll see who we draw in the tournament and go from there.”

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports