When opportunity knocks, will you be there to answer?
That’s the question the Ridge High School field hockey team must ask themselves before taking on top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan in Saturday’s Somerset County Tournament final at Mount St. Mary Academy.
The third-seeded Red Devils entered play on Tuesday with a record of 11-4 and will be making their first appearance in the SCT final since 2005, when, coincidentally enough, they were defeated by Bridgewater-Raritan.
The opportunity to dethrone the county’s top field hockey program over the last decade presents itself once again on Saturday.
“I think the girls are definitely aware of the challenge that we have ahead of us,” Ridge coach Kim Clark said. “We have to make our focus on Saturday be about us and what we have to do, rather than just beating Bridgewater.”
Bridgewater-Raritan will be making its 10th consecutive trip to the county finals and have been winners each of the last five years.
“Their attack, particularly their transition attack, is by far one of their biggest strengths,” Clark said about the Panthers. “They pass the ball better than anyone we’ve played this fall and that was on display the first time we played them.”
Bridgewater-Raritan defeated Ridge 9-3 back on Sept. 19th.
“We have to know that the best defense is good offense,” she added.
Ridge has plenty of offense, that’s no secret.
Led by junior Devon Brown’s 16 goals along with balanced offensive numbers from players such as Jenny Diehl (nine goals, 10 assists) and Sam Mahon (12 goals and seven assists), the Red Devils have the ability to cause problems for opposing teams’ defenses.
“They’re definitely a better team than when we played them the first time and they have some girls that can score,” Bridgewater coach Kathy DeBonis said of Ridge. “But, we’ve become a better team since that point as well.”
The Panthers have suffered only one defeat, a 2-1 loss at the hands of Hunterdon Central back on Sept. 10. Since that point, they’ve won 11 in a row, compiling a 12-1 record entering Tuesday.
“We started a little slow this year,” DeBonis said. “There’s been exponential growth for this group since the beginning of the season. Everything has seemed to click for us.”
Everything has been clicking, on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers have outscored opponents at an alarming 61-13 rate this season with five shutouts. But this type of dominance should come as no surprise to anyone, it’s just what the Panthers have been doing for years.
“The girls are aware that there’s a target on their back every year,” DeBonis said. “It comes down to being grounded. We treat each game as just one game.”
Bridgewater-Raritan’s road to the title game involved outscoring ninth-seeded Watchung Hills and fifth-seeded Montgomery by a combined score of 12-1, including a 4-0 shutout of the Cougars in the semifinals.
The Red Devils’ road wasn’t as easy, however.
After taking down sixth-seeded Mount St. Mary 5-1 in the quarterfinals, they were taken to the brink in the semifinals against second-seeded Bernards this past Saturday.
With the score tied at two late in overtime and holding possession of the ball in the middle of the circle, Mahon slid a pass over to a wide open Diehl on the far post for the game deciding goal.
“It was great to see the girls be so poised and so composed in that situation,” Clark said. “That game took about five years off of my life.”
And if it means another five years off of her life for an SCT crown this weekend, you can bet Clark won’t mind so much.