The Barnegat Bengals burst with screams and shouts Tuesday.
The scene took place after their 2-0 win over top-seeded Wall in the third round of the NJSIAA Group II tournament.
The ninth-seeded Bengals will meet No. 4 Sterling, a 25-16 and 25-16 winner over Caldwell, in the Group II Section A championship match at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at Madison.
The Bengals (20-7) toppled Wall 25-23 and 25-22.
“I’m not surprised that we beat them,” Barnegat middle blocker-outside hitter Sara Ridgway said. “We were proud to be seeded ninth. We’re proud that we beat the top-seeded team. That was our motivation. When we we beat (eighth-seeded) Mahwah in the second round, it lit the fire under us to keep going.We have run with that fire and it has kept us going.”
“We went in here thinking if we played the way we had been playing we would win,” Barnegat coach Karla Jennings said. “We have been firing on all cylinders. We’re peaking. I knew this team was special all year long.”
The Bengals qualified for a sectional final for the first time in their eight-year history.
“This is great,” Ridgway said. “This is the best. This is my fourth year on the varsity. It’s the first year I have seen a lot of fans come out to our matches.”
Ridgway blasted home 12 kills and added four digs and two blocks.
“What is great about Sara is she hits the ball anywhere on the court,” said Jennings, the founder of the program. “She hits to the deep corners. She hits the ball where it needs to be hit. She rarely misplays the ball.”
Senior outside hitter Meg Nichols added two aces, 10 kills and four digs. Senior setter-defensive specialist Kelsey Ritner contributed four aces and seven digs. Junior defensive specialist Cassie Bailey added 10 digs. Junior setter-defensive specialist Nikki Casertano contributed 22 assists.
“It was absolutely a team effort,” Jennings said. “We have a super deep bench. Everyone has bought into hard work and believing in themselves. Everyone is on board.”
For Wall, senior outside hitter Veronica Portelli notched five digs and four kills. Sophomore outside hitter Jessica Stansfield added six digs and three kills. Rachel Noble contributed four kills. Senior defensive specialist Raquel Rudofsky contributed four digs. Junior setter Taylor Mitchell handed out 11 assists.
“We battled,” Wall coach Jared Musolf said, “but we never found our rhythm. We never found that rhythm today. Nerves? Who knows? Was it because it was a big match? It’s one of those things I don’t have an answer for.
“They were in rhythm for most of the day. They played very well. They came out and played good volleyball today.”
Wall finished the season at 21-5. The Crimson Knights won Shore Conference Class A North and fell to Southern Regional in the Shore Conference Tournament championship match at Georgian Court University.
“The feeling today stinks,” Musolf said. “The girls feel it, but we’ll look back on the year with fond memories.”
Barnegat won the first game on a kill by Nichols. The Bengals captured the second game on another Nichols kill.
“We stayed focused,” Ridgway said. “We knew we wanted it. We’re the first team in school history to advance to the third round. That motivated us. We have had a real successful season because we have a real cohesive unit. We play for each other rather than getting pumped up as individuals.”