MIDDLETOWN, NJ - As trilogies go, the 2017 Summit Girls Lacrosse Derby Series -- pitting the Summit High School Girls Varsity Lacrosse team against their eight-tenths-of-a-mile-away neighbors Oak Knoll -- was a classic.
Games with air-tight margins. A slew of dramatic moments. A showcase of highly-skilled student athletes delivering a gallery of spectacular team and individual play.
However, at the conclusion of this Titanic Triad, The Maroon and White portion of the Hilltop City was left feeling the way audiences felt after The Hangover Part III, The Godfather Part III, Superman III, Spider-Man 3, and Home Alone 3.
In a funk.
That because, despite a valiant comeback that turned a two-goal halftime deficit into a two-goal second-half lead, Summit was outscored 6-2 over the game's final 17 minutes and fell to Oak Knoll in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals 6-2 at Middletown North High School.
Helen Louise Johnson and Anna Huntley-Robertson each had two goals for Summit, while Annabelle Zebrowski and Ali Baiocco both had Hat Tricks to lead Oak Knoll, who advanced to take on Bridgewater in the June 10 Final. Diana Kelly added five assists for the Royals.
Of the three match-ups between the team this season, Summit's early season win over the Royals at their Chatham Fields complex on April 11 appears to be the outlier, with the TOC semi taking on a similar feel to the Union County Final tilt the teams engaged in May 6.
Oak Knoll opened sharply, and the Hilltoppers did not, looking indecisive and rushed at various times both offensively and defensively.
After eight minutes of play it was 4-1 Oak Knoll, with goals from Zebrowski, Katie Kelly, Baiocco and Christy Sieber sandwiching a score from Julia Szynal, who knifed into the middle from the right side.
A fast break, tic-tac-toe passing play -- from Johnson to Katia Carnevale to Anna Turk -- resulted in the latter finishing down low and the Royals lead was cut to two goals with one tick under nine minutes remaining.
The transition tally seemed to spark Summit, as their play improved and soon the mood did also when Johnson scored off a free position opportunity, narrowing the deficit to one at the 6:48 mark.
Oak Knoll's Claire Galvin made it 5-3 Royals at the 2:17 mark, and the teams went to the break with Summit two goals behind even though they had won six of eight draws.
Summit Head Coach Mike Walsh must've cracked open a can of good juju during his halftime team talk, as the Hilltoppers blasted out of the blocks and put in a performance reminiscent of their storm-from-behind-to-tie-it stretch in the Union County Final.
The Hilltoppers potted four goals in five minutes -- courtesy of Huntley-Robertson, Carnevale, senior captain Cecily Stabler, and Johnson -- and, before one could say Terminator 3 - Rise of The Machines, Summit had risen up to lead 7-5.
The large, boisterous Summit crowd that braved an hour of Garden State Parkway traffic for the 5 p.m. start was going bonkers, the student-section supplied boom box blasting away after each of the four goals, and the 07901 faithful were primed for a feel-good ending to the trilogy.
Oak Knoll had other ideas.
The Royals, looking mondo-wobbly, righted themselves and rifled home the next four goals during a 5:59 stretch, the plot twist flipping a two-goal hole into a two-goal hill. The catalyst for the reversal was a sea-change in possession, with the Royals scoring and grabbing the ensuing draws.
Huntley-Robertson's second of the day, a low-bouncer delivered as she was rolling from the left side of the crease to her right, cut Oak Knoll's in half at 9-8 with 8:49 left.
The Royals continued to win the ball however, and were able to convert through Baiocco and Zebrowski, the latter's goal coming with just 2:54 to go and upping the Royals lead to 11-8.
Even though senior captain Stella Spotts scored with 2:27 left to cut the deficit to two, Summit could not get the ball over the final couple of minutes and time eventually ran out on the defending champs.
"We couldn't get our defensive footing early in the game, and I thought we were both stationary and rushed offensively. We weren't moving and then we were forcing passes and shots," said Walsh. "As we have done all year in tough situations, we found a way to grind and get back into the game but, in the end, it came down to possession."
Group 3 Champions, Summit ends its season with a record of 19-3.