OLD BRIDGE, NJ - Top level Greater Middlesex Conference field hockey was on full display at Carl Sandburg School’s field today, as the conference’s top ranked team, South Plainfield High School, matched up against second ranked Old Bridge High School.
The intense back and forth nature of the game proved that both squads belong at the top of the GMC, but the game’s result showed exactly why the undefeated Tigers (14-0) deserve the number one spot.
The Tigers persevered through a late surge from Old Bridge (9-4-1) in regulation, and an overtime goal from forward Caity Hughes gave South Plainfield a 4-3 win over their conference rival.
After the game, Tigers coach Melissa Szeliga said her team wasn’t caught off guard by how competitive and intense the match was.
“We expected that going into it,” the coach said. “Really, anytime we play Old Bridge it's a very intense game. They show up to play us every time, and emotions are always going to be high when we play them.”
Though the game was competitive from the opening whistle, it seemed at first that there wouldn’t be much in terms of drama. The Tiger Trio, Hughes, Nicole Zultowski, and Angela Sanchez, had success early, as Zultowski scored off an assist from Sanchez about two minutes into the game. At the nine minute mark, Sanchez got a goal of her own courtesy an assist from Hughes.
It took a while for the Knights to start connecting, but they certainly made it count when they did.
Towards the end of the second half, Old Bridge generated a counter attack that was finished by a short-range goal from Mikayla Van Horn. Zultowski was able to notch another goal in the opening minutes of the second half, but the pressure of the Knights kept in the game.
Old Bridge earned five corners in the second half and two of them led to goals. The first came from Abigail Zimmerlink at the four minute mark, and the second from Layla Mahmoud 19 minutes into the half.
With the score tied 3-3, both teams came close to ending it in regulation, but the game went on to overtime. Even though the pendulum seemed to be swinging Old Bridge’s way just minutes before, it was the Tigers who eventually came out on top.
“They were definitely pumped up for overtime and so were we,” Hughes said after the game. “Our coaches definitely prepared us for the under pressure moments, so we were very confident going into it, and confident that we would score a goal.”
About five minutes in, an opportunity for that goal came. Hughes received a pass from Ashley Veliz while downfield, and worked her way through the Old Bridge defense until she found a spot, put up the shot, and won the game.
“My nerves were settling a little bit, and I got a great pass from Ashley, and I tried my best to cut in and get a clean shot and it worked,” Hughes said. “(The win) gives us a lot of confidence. (It’s something) we want to carry on through the GMCs.”
After the game, Szeliga spoke highly of the accurate passing between Hughes and the other forwards, and also praised the team’s mentality and tenacity.
“(Us coaches) just told them that (Old Bridge) is a team that never gives up, so Old Bridge is always going to be right there at it until that last whistle blows,” the coach said.
“I think my girls did a great job of sticking to our game plan and really executing the little things that we know how to do,” I was very proud of how they stepped up in overtime to get the W they were looking for.”
The Tigers will take on South Brunswick next at a home match on Thursday.