EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Cherokee field hockey team figured it was playing with house money when it came into the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs as an unheralded No. 10 seed after posting a pedestrian 6-11-1 record. But playing against teams such as Lenape, Eastern Regional, Seneca, Moorestown, Shawnee and Camden Catholic certainly had the Chiefs prepared for playoff-caliber hockey.
The Chiefs played a free and easy style, built up a 4-0 halftime lead on the strength of a hat trick from sophomore Alex Kulinski, and rolled to a 9-0 win over No. 7 Egg Harbor Township on Monday afternoon to advance to a second-round date with No. 2 Kingsway on Friday. (Photo gallery: facebook.com/acglorydays).
"In the beginning of the season we kind of struggled with scoring, but then we switched up our formation and got our passes connected and that led to more scoring. Our energy was good from the beginning. During warmups we were ready and pumped. We wanted to win this game," Kulinski said. "We really wanted it. We made great passes and scored a lot (early). We just really wanted it."
"This gives us a lot of confidence because coming in as a low seed and knowing we would probably have all away games we were a little discouraged, but I think we were really hyped up," added senior captain Alli Yocum. "We were like, 'we have nothing to lose so let's just go out there and give everything we have and try our best.' This is really exciting for us, going into round two."
Cherokee (7-11-1) got on the board early thanks to Kulinski and she made it 2-0 with a little more than 13 minutes left in the first half when she knocked in a rebound of a Yocum shot that was initially saved. Kulinski scored again less than a minute later for a hat trick and finished with five goals, while Yocum got a tally of her own with 1:24 left in the first half to push the lead to 4-0.
The long bus ride from Marlton didn't seem to affect the Chiefs, who came out with a lot of energy and controlled possession throughout, making it tough for EHT (9-8) to build any momentum offensively.
"In the beginning of state playoffs our coach tries to get us all riled up and excited. We aren't really known for our field hockey and we really have nothing to lose, so we just go for it," Yocum said. "I felt comfortable in the middle of the first half. We scored one or two and I didn't want to get too cocky because we still had to play our game and you never know what can happen, but as we continued to rack up (goals) I was like, 'OK, we got this.' It's so fun to be able to move on and know our season isn't over yet. The pressure happens to everyone, you just have think about now and not what could happen. You just have to give your all and play to win."
Any chance for an Eagles comeback was put to bed early in the second half, as Kulinski added her fourth goal less than two minutes in. A few minutes later, Kelly Foley knocked home a crossing pass to make it 6-0, and Sarah Binder scored on a penalty stroke with 11:19 left to make it 7-0. Yocum and Kulinski each scored once more, and goalie Kylie Cassidy made some outstanding saves in the second half to record the shutout.
In other first-round games, No. 9 Cherry Hill East upset No. 8 Williamstown, 4-0, to earn a second-round matchup with top-seeded Eastern — also the No. 1-ranked team in the nation; No. 5 Washington Township blanked No. 12 Vineland 10-0 to advance to play No. 4 Shawnee; third-seeded Southern Regional received a bye into the second round and will face No. 11 Atlantic City, a surprise 2-0 upset winner over sixth-seeded Millville.
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays