It's times like these
You learn to live again
It's times like these
You give and give again
It's times like these
You learn to love again
It's times like these
Time and time again
- Times Like These, Foo Fighters
SUMMIT, NJ - In a game that was a literal and emotional roller coaster, the Summit High School Varsity Girls Lacrosse Team went toe-to-toe with crosstown rival Oak Knoll in the Tournament of Champions Final, exchanging runs and leads until the clock hit zero.
And, when time did run out, it was heartbreak for the Hilltoppers as they, in a contest that always seemed like it would be decided by a lone goal, found themselves on the short end of an 11-10 score line, falling for the second year in a row at the final, ultimate state lacrosse hurdle.
Summit's Sara Szynal
had six goals, as did the Oak Knoll's Ally Baiocco, in an encounter that not only decided the TOC crown, but served as the rubber-game in the three-match set between the sides this season.
The two teams had split their two previous encounters, with Summit taking home the Union County Title in their last meeting May 9.
The fact remains there is little between the top four teams in the state and, with such little margin, even the slightest advantage, minor misstep, or lost opportunity can mean the difference between a win and loss on any given day.
Such was the case versus Oak Knoll, a dynamic offensive team, where every Summit turnover, each second-chance possession allowed, and the prime scoring chances not finished are magnified.
On the day, Oak Knoll had a significant draw advantage -- 15 to 7 -- and the Hilltoppers turned the ball over several times, giving the Royals additional opportunities, several that they took advantage of and buried.
The Hilltoppers began brightly when Callie Humphrey scored off a free position opportunity at the 22:07 mark. Baiocco scored on a similar opportunity less than two minutes later to tie it, but a Szynal goal just under a minute after that made it 2-1 Hilltoppers.
At that point in the game, Summit looked ready to go on a run, and Oak Knoll was -- uncharacteristically -- committing turnovers. Summit could not take advantage of this window of opportunity, although they did hit a crossbar and a goalpost, and the Royals gathered themselves and went on a four-goals-in-four-minutes run that put the Hilltoppers against the ropes.
First Allison Sayla scored, then Baiocco at 12:26, followed by her sister Nicole Baiocco less than two minutes later, and finally Baiocco again for the Hat Trick at 8:32, and it was 5-2 Oak Knoll. Summit regrouped, however, and blasted back for three straight goals of their own.
Szynal's second made it 5-3 at 7:22, and Catherine Cordrey then fired a bounce shot into the back of the net at 4:57 to narrow the lead to one. The game was level when Szynal's Hat Trick goal came at 2:10 but, in this game of streaks, Oak Knoll still had one more left in the first half's final moments.
Diana Kelly put the Royals back in front at 1:02 and, in a bit of a sucker punch, Nicole Baiocco scored with just three seconds left in the half. The latter was one of a few goals on the day that Summit surrendered after having possession, but turning it right back over to their opponent.
Down 7-5 to start the second half, Summit came out and played a strong opening 10 minutes, winning loose balls and possession, to storm back into the lead. Cordrey's second narrowed the lead to one once more, and Humphrey's second, driving from the left side, to her right and into the middle of the area before firing home, knotted things at 7-7.
The run was complete at 16:48 when Szynal scored her fourth of the game, the Hilltoppers led 8-7 and Oak Knoll called timeout. The teams then traded goals -- Sayla for the Royals and Szynal's fifth for Summit -- but the the strong spell of play for the Maroon & White -- who now led 9-8 -- then quickly dissipated, and Oak Knoll won the high majority of ball possession the rest of the way, and used it to good advantage.
And, it was sophomore Baiocco who did the damage, scoring at the 12:40 and 9:13 marks to put the Royals back in front 10-9. Szynal got her sixth goal, with six and a-half minutes left, to create the fifth tie score of the game at 10 apiece.
The teams traded possessions and takeaways then, with 3:44 left, Baiocco struck for her sixth of the night to make it 11-10 Royals. The Hilltoppers had the ball several times over the next minute and a-half plus, but either turned it over or could not get a quality chance on goal.
Oak Knoll controlled the ball in the Summit end for most of the final two minutes, and all of the final sixty seconds. Unable to get possession back, the Hilltoppers were left to chase the ball until time expired.
Both goalies played well for their respective teams, with Summit's Kady Glynn finishing with 10 saves, and Oak Knoll's Jackie McCall making seven stops.
"When we had the ball, we did good things with it," said Summit Head Coach Mike Walsh. "Plus, when we have the ball, they don't. That just didn't happen enough, especially in the later stages of the second half."
"At the end of the day, I don't think there is any doubt these are the two best lacrosse teams in New Jersey," Walsh added. "We fought, clawed, and gave it everything we had. We needed one more possession, and just weren't able to get it."
To lose for the second consecutive year in the TOC final and, by a single goal in a punch-counter punch game, may seem -- to those of a Hilltopper persuasion -- like adding insult to injury.
The injury part of the equation is not up for debate and, while all teams fight injuries, Summit's were key losses -- materially and emotionally -- none more so than when senior captain Olivia Kelly was lost for the season on April 18.
But this is a Hilltopper team that consistently fought for each other and fought back. Expertly coached, battle-tested through a juggernaut schedule, they were always expected -- by those on the outside looking in -- to make it back to the TOC.
That's a tough expectation to handle, one that could easily derail a team that is faced with some true adversity.
These Hilltoppers however -- despite the fact that they suffered a few bumps in the road along the way, and that the number of elite teams and the level of competition continues to ramp up -- persevered and made it.
Yes, a victory would have been very sweet, but so was the journey.