Once again, Central Regional’s run through the state playoffs came to an end against Moorestown.
The fourth-seeded Quakers received an early goal from Nicole Varela and a late goal from Marie McCool and defeated the second-seeded Golden Eagles, 2-0, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III final Tuesday at Central Regional.
It was the second straight sectional title for Moorestown (16-4-1), which started the season 0-3. Last year, the Quakers beat Central 1-0 in the SJ III semifinals and made it all the way to the Group III final before losing to Northern Highlands.
Central (15-4-1), meanwhile, was playing in its first sectional final in program history.
“I’m beyond proud of them,” Central coach Kristee Paknis said. “They really worked so hard this year. We graduated so many last year, we had to fill up a whole team and they really stepped up. They’re a great group of girls, never complained, always listened, just working as hard as they can. They left their hearts on the field.”
The Golden Eagles won three state playoff games — all at home — to reach the final, a run that was all the more remarkable given the aftermath of superstorm Sandy’s destruction on the Central Regional community.
“There was definitely an adjustment, the whole school felt it,” Paknis said. “They really stepped up and I think made their community and school and everyone proud. They’re pretty resilient.”
The Golden Eagles’ adversity also was felt by Moorestown, which presented Central with a check for $500 prior to the game to assist in disaster relief.
“They had a heckuva run,” Moorestown coach Bill Mulvihill said. “To get to the South Jersey final after everything that has gone on up here is very much a credit to their coach and to their team.”
Once the game started, Moorestown wasted little time taking the lead. Less than a minute in, Moorestown’s Frankie Angeleri had a breakaway and was taken down just outside the box by Central junior goalkeeper Lindsey Mahnken. The result was a direct kick for Moorestown and a yellow card for Mahnken, who had to come out of the game for the ensuing direct kick.
Varela took the kick and fired a shot into the right side past the reach of junior backup goalkeeper Darian Lutz to give Moorestown a quick 1-0 lead.
“She’s got one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen, male or female,” Mulvihill said of Varela. “Sometimes she has a little bit of a hard time controlling it, but when she does get it low and on goal it’s tough to stop no matter who you are.”
For Central, the play was similar to an incident from its 2-1 semifinal win over Kingsway in which Kingsway’s goalkeeper received a red card.
“The exact same play happened with us against Kingsway,” Mahnken said. “The girl got a red card, and honestly I was thankful it was only a yellow and that I only got one play out. Even if I went with my hands I was out of the box, so it would have been something. Darian’s a great keeper, and that was an awesome shot by that player.”
Mahnken then spent much of the game keeping the Golden Eagles within 1-0 by making a number of spectacular saves, finishing with 10 overall.
“I never saw an individual performance as I did today in goal,” Mulvihill said of Mahnken. “She was unbelievable how she played. She just kept making save after save after save.”
Central, though, mounted little pressure against Quakers goalkeeper Carly Blessing, who made five stops. Alexis Jensen had a long direct kick in the first half, and Erin Trapp had two good shots in the second half while another shot hit off the post for Central’s best chances.
Moorestown finally made it 2-0 in the 78th minute when McCool, the team’s top scorer, put in a shot from in front of the goal.