EGG HARBOR TWP. – In a defensive struggle befitting a state semifinal game, it was soon apparent the first goal could go a long way toward the deciding the outcome.
Ultimately that goal came on a deflection from Cassidy Strittmatter on a penalty corner six minutes into the second half.
The tally sparked the Seneca High School field hockey team to a to a 2-1 win over West Deptford in a Group 2 state semifinal game played at Egg Harbor High School.
“It was such a relief,” said Strittmatter, who would score the eventual game winnner later in the game. “The game was kind of at standstill for a while, and we were battling hard.
“But being able to get that in and have everyone’s hard work pay off . . . that was big.”
The tally came with an assist from Maddie Lawlor, who was originally thought to have scored the goal. But the final touch came from Strittmatter who was stationed in front of the cage.
“Maddie sent me a great ball,” Strittmatter said. “I was just able finish it. It’s such an amazing feeling to get that going for my team and we just kept going from there.”
The win enabled Seneca to return to the state championship game for a second straight season, following a loss last year to Runsom-Fair Haven.
They will play West Essex Saturday at Bordentown High School.
Strittmatter, a sophomore, hopes her team will learn from last year’s experience.
“This shows that last year wasn’t a mistake and it wasn’t luck,” she said. “We are meant to be here. The sky is the limit. I know that hard work gets you everywhere and we have the hardest working team.”
Wednesday’s win left first-year coach Kristina Foster nearly speechless.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “These girls earned it.”
However, she confirmed that having her team score the first goal in the game was huge, particularly since the game was so tightly played throughout.
“It was absolutely a fantastic fight between the two teams,” Foster said. “That’s what we’ve been wanting the entire playoff season is this type of competition – this battle.
“West Deptford is very well known for their coaching – their structure. So it was very important for us to score first today.”
That the big goal came from Strittmatter came as no surprise to the coach.
“Cassidy has been a starter since last year, her freshman year,” Foster said. “She has one of the smartest hockey minds on this team, and she has tremendous vision. She leads by example.”
Coming in a close second for her contributions to the team was goalie Jenna Flemings, who made a number of big stops in the game.
She was finally beaten by Brooke Bailey in closing minutes of the game, but the Golden Eagles were able to hold on, despite a late West Deptford charge.
Flemings made one last save on a closing rush with about 10 seconds to play.
“I knew it was crucial for them to score a goal,” Flemings said. “I knew they were coming for a fight so I knew I had to stay composed when then got their goal, and I knew I had to make some big saves in the closing seconds.”
Otherwise Fleming was pretty much flawless, kicking and batting away some tough chances.
”I felt like I was 100 percent `on’ today,” she said. “I felt like I had to play hard for my team. I told them today we have to have the heart for us. I think it worked out really well for us that we had that heart.”
Group 2 State Semifinal
West Deptford 0 1-1
Seneca 0 2-2
Goals: Seneca: Cassidy Strittmatter 2, WD: Brooke Bailey. Saves: Isabella Gismondi, WD, 5: Jenna Flemings, S. 6.