FRANKLIN TWP. – Meg Unger couldn’t help herself.
After the Delsea Regional High School field hockey team clinched its second-ever sectional final berth with a 3-0 victory over Pinelands on Wednesday, the Crusaders’ long-time coach suggested the girls get in an extra hour of practice because the game ended so early.
The Crusaders were stunned. A few raised their hand saying they were game. A few others said they had other plans. Most just stood there, mouths agape.
Then Unger started laughing.
“I thought she was serious,” senior forward Destini Parker said. “(At first) I thought she was going to ask us if we want to go out for lunch.”
“I love to do that. I love to play with them,” added Unger. “A lot of them are young because we only have two seniors on this team, and they’re young and they pretty much take me seriously whenever. … This is the normal time we’re out there (practicing) so that’s why I was thinking, OK, we’re here, so why not get an extra an hour or two.”
Some more practice time wouldn’t have hurt, as No. 2 Delsea faces a major test in top-seeded and two-time defending champion West Deptford in the Group II South title game on Friday.
The Crusaders, who made their first finals appearance last season, fell to the same Eagles 4-0 in that contest.
“We just need to play our game,” Parker said. “We need to keep our heads up. We can’t go in the game thinking we’re going to lose or that they’re a tough team because any team that we’re going to play next round, they’re going to be really tough. And we’re ready.”
Delsea (17-5) definitely looked prepared against third-seeded Pinelands (16-5). The Crusaders jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute when Nadia Berardelli, who was storming down the field, found the ball at the base of her stick for a one-timer in front of the cage.
“So much was going through my head,” she said. “I was just like, OK, you’ve got to move and you’ve got to get it in. That’s your goal. You have to get it in.”
The Wildcats responded well to the deficit though, as they controlled the rest of the first half.
Pinelands had six corners over the final 17 minutes, but were unable to put any away. That was largely due to Delsea’s defense on those plays, particularly Parker, who made two stellar stops to get her team out of danger.
“We knew once they scored, we knew they were going to come back hungry,” Parker said. “But we just kept our team together and we played with each other. We had each other’s back and that’s how we stop the ball. Whenever I went out for a corner, because I’m on fly, my goalie Hailey Abbott, she told me where to go. She knew I was in the right position and that’s why I got my stops.”
The Crusaders maintained their 1-0 edge into the intermission, but the coaches knew they had to play better or Pinelands would tie it up. So Unger told her girls to focus on maintaining better possession. If they did that, they would come out on top.
Delsea followed her instructions and delivered. The Crusaders dominated the second half, especially early, getting five corners and two penalty strokes in the first 15 minutes.
Sophomore defender Pam Abbott had the first stroke denied as Pinelands goalie Julia Kline made a diving stop to her right, but came through when she had a second chance, giving her squad a 2-0 lead 14:22 into the half.
“The first one, she made a really good save,” she said. “The second one, she was really close. I got lucky. I just tried to put it to the same spot and tried to get it in.”
Berardelli added her second goal of the game with just seven minutes left to seal the win.
“It feels great,” Berardelli said. “I know those two goals weren’t just me, they were everybody on the team, and that really made it special.”
And she hopes the good times continue on Friday.
“I don’t want this season to end,” Berardelli said, “and that’s going to push us in this last game.”
Josh Friedman; (856) 563-5257; email@example.com