The Rumson-Fair Haven field hockey team came up just short of a trip to the NJSIAA Group II final on Friday.
The Bulldogs fell to West Essex, 4-3, in overtime of the Group II semifinals off a game-winner from the Knights’ Amanda Cassera.
There was one thing clear when all was said and done at Borden Stadium — the result was not for lack of effort from the Bulldogs (20-3). They rallied three times to tie the game, showing a resiliency head coach Julie Vaccarelli has grown accustomed to seeing throughout the season.
“These girls played with heart the entire game,” Vaccarelli said.
After trailing 1-0 off a penalty stroke from Cassera, Rumson’s Clare Fitzgerald scored off an assist from Madison Maguire to send the game 1-1 into halftime.
Yet another penalty stroke was given to West Essex (21-1) with 18 minutes left in the second half, which was again scored by Cassera, who finished the game with a team-high three goals.
With about eight minutes left in the game the Bulldogs still trailed 2-1, prompting Vaccarelli to burn her final timeout.
“We just told them you have eight minutes left in the game, you have to give it your all right now,” Vaccarelli said.
Once again the team responded as Meghan Drastal scored with 6:37 left in the game to tie it at 2-2.
The pace picked up for both teams, and West Essex seemed to put the game away with a goal from Stephanie Pezzuti for a 3-2 lead with about five minutes left in regulation.
Rumson answered one final time with 2:23 left after earning a penalty stroke of its own. Maguire stepped up to the line and converted to tie it at 3-3 and send the game into overtime.
“We just didn’t want them to leave the field with any regrets,” Vaccarelli said. “They definitely stepped up and rose to the occasion today.”
Even with the loss there was still much to be proud of overall for the Bulldogs. They won a sectional title, which was their second in school history, and earned their first trip to the Shore Conference Tournament final.
“The girls have had an outstanding season,” Vaccarelli said. “Today they battled with one of the best teams in the state year in and year out.”
It was also a bittersweet day for Bulldogs senior Caroline Bitterly.
“Any time a team is able to answer back three times in one game, it just shows how much heart we really had,” Bitterly said.
It’s going to be tough for Bitterly and the core group of seniors after the loss, but they are still proud of what they accomplished.
“We have been with this team for several months now, and we have just grown to be a family,” Bitterly said. “It’s going to be hard for our seniors to part with this program, but the future that lies ahead for them is bright.”