Girls Lacrosse Loses OT Playoff Heartbreaker

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Maggie AshleyOn Wednesday, a steady, pouring rain set the backdrop for an epic, state playoff clash between #3 seed Verona and #6 seed Morristown Beard in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA Section 2, Group 1 bracket. Verona had defeated the Crimson 11-6 earlier in the season using a specific offense that relies on extra passing to solve Morristown’s Beard “backer” defense, which is designed to crowd the area in front of the goalie with an extra defender to make direct runs at the goalie more difficult. The rainy conditions, which didn’t let up all game, favored the visiting Crimson because the stormy weather wreaked havoc on Verona’s ability to make the extra pass. The wet ball frequently turned into a hot potato, turning many possessions into a tedious exercise just to formulate a quality shot on net.

Despite the difficult conditions, the game had a true playoff atmosphere with each team trading blows from the beginning of the game to the end, and then needing sudden death overtime for a winner to finally emerge.

Morristown Beard took a quick 1-0 lead two minutes into the game with Verona responding a minute later and this pattern would continue throughout the game with each team immediately answering the other team’s score with a goal of their own, seeing the score tied up an astounding nine different times before the final whistle ended regulation at 10-10.

Senior Captain Maggie Ashley scored her two goals in the first half to help Verona go into halftime tied 4-4, with sophomore goalie Skyler Freedman (six saves total) making a big save at point blank range preserving the tie for the ‘Billies going into the halftime break.

The second half saw the Crimson score first but Verona kept pace as senior captain Cecilia “CC” Courter scored the next two Verona goals, part of her team-high five points (three goals and two assists). Morristown Beard would not go away, however, and took a two-goal lead, 8-6, with 10:13 left in the game. Verona didn’t panic, answering with two goals of their own from junior attacker Sarah Carlucci, including a rare open net free position shot after the Crimson goalie committed a foul on her, to tie the game up once again, 8-8.

The game’s rollercoaster nature was largely driven by two statistics, draw controls and turnovers. The Lady Hillbillies dominated the draw circle, 17-5, over the Crimson, with sophomore midfielder Maggie Lonsinger capturing an unofficial school record of 15 controls, only to see that edge quickly disappear by repeated turnovers in the offensive end that would swing the possession, and momentum, back to the Crimson throughout the contest.

After Mo Beard pushed ahead for a 9-8 lead with 6:15 left, the Lady Hillbillies dug deep once again when Courter, despite a pounding from three Crimson defenders, was able to find Emily Coppola in front of the net uncovered and the junior attacker used a clever low shot to beat the goalie and tie it up, 9-9, with just 3:39 left. A tug of war ensued between both teams until Mo Beard seemingly landed the knockout blow with their tenth goal with just under a minute left.

The Crimson were even able to capture the ensuing draw control which typically would close out the game, but Verona junior defender Lara Tole had other ideas, making the play of the game by stealing the ball from Mo Beard with a well timed stick check with just 0:36 seconds remaining. Tole started her exciting transition run, which involved a successful three-pass sequence that found junior attacker Julia Mackey alone in front of the Morristown Beard net for her first goal of the game, to tie the score at 10-10 with just 13 seconds left, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and the game shortly into sudden death overtime.

But the home crowd celebration was short-lived in overtime as the Crimson took advantage of another Hillbilly turnover in the offensive end and scored the game-winner with 2:30 remaining in the extra session, abruptly ending the season for Verona.

The Lady Hillbillies fought hard to the bitter end and left it all out on the field but the constant afternoon rain was soon mixed with tears of emotion on the Verona side as the girls reflected on a successful campaign that they wished could have been extended another week. The Lady Hillbillies finished the season 10-8 overall playing a difficult schedule filled with elite lacrosse programs, many from bigger schools, and a 5-1 second-place finish in the Freedom Conference South division.

The program also says goodbye to two more Division 1 scholarship players in senior captains Maggie Ashley (Bucknell- Patriot League) and CC Courter (Saint Francis- Northeast Conference) continuing the pipeline of college lacrosse talent from the Group One school over the last five years.

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