The Eastern High School field hockey is on a championship run that is older than even some of its current players.
The last time the Vikings didn’t earn a sectional title was in 1998, Titanic won the Oscar for Best Picture.
On Thursday, the Vikings continued the impressive streak by taking down Washington Township, 8-1, to capture their 17th consecutive South Jersey Group 4 championship.
“Dominant. I don’t have another word. We dominated the game,” Eastern coach Danyle Heilig said when asked about her team’s performance. “We demonstrated clearly we’re the best team in South Jersey.”
As close as the last Eastern vs. Washington Township meeting was on Oct. 19 (a 3-2 Vikings victory), this contest didn’t have the same script. Eastern outshot the Minutemaids 32-4 and it felt like the Vikings were earning corners almost every opportunity down the field.
Nikki Santore, who has been right around the top of the state scoring leaders list all season, paced the Vikings’ attack with five tallies, matching her best single game output this year. The performance brought her playoff goal total up to 13 in just three games.
“My teammates working hard for me and me working hard back,” Santore said when asked how she’s been so successful. “It’s a team effort. I can’t do it by myself.
“The last two times we played them it wasn’t our best showings and we were really interested in coming out here and going as hard as possible. I think we really did that and it worked really well.”
The game started as a bit of a back-and-forth affair before things settled in. The first few minutes saw Eastern with several good chances while the Minutemaids were able to keep the ball out of the cage.
The Vikings finally seized one of their many opportunities when the opened the scoring at 19 minute, 46-second mark. Madison Morano found ripped a shot from the right side that deflected in front and found it’s way in the top left corner of the net.
Jessica Maute made it 2-0 a few minutes later on a corner opportunity after a deflected shot found its way to her stick.
“I think we had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t necessarily finish on,” Heilig said. “I still think that we did a good job of getting corners and creating opportunities. It’s very hard when you’re playing against a team that has 11 players in the circle defensively. The goal is to get a corner and open the circle, and I feel like we did that”
Halftime brought no relief for the Minutemaids as Eastern kept the pressure on and continued its corner onslaught. Santore’s first goal made it 3-0 just over five minutes into the second half.
Washington Township refused to quit and even found some new life at the 23:51 mark of the second half when it finally broke through the Eastern defense. A ball was sent through the circle following a whistle and, after Eastern tried to steal possession away, Carly Kreitzer deposited it into the net to get the Minutemaids on the board.
The Minutemaids’ momentum didn’t last very long as Eastern put the game on ice with four goals in a little less than 10-minute span. Santore collected three goals during the run and Morano closed the scoring out.
“We worked in practice the small skills that lacked the last two times that we played them and that made a huge difference for us,” Morano said. “They already proved that they were a good team and we hadn’t proved it yet playing against them and that was our turn. Our last home game potentially to prove to them and everyone that we can play together and be successful.”
Heilig said the win felt great and that she was very proud of her team, especially in a bracket she called “the toughest in Central and South Jersey.”
Since she took the head coaching job at Eastern in 1999, Heilig has yet to have a team that hasn’t won a sectional title. As the Vikings advance to the state Group 4 semifinals once again this year, she is hoping to keep her national record state championship streak of 16 alive as well.
Morano hopes so too.
“It’s my senior year and I want to go out with a bang,” she said.
EASTERN 8, WASHINGTON TWP. 1
Player of the game: Eastern’s Nikki Santore for her five-goal performance.
Play of the game: Late in the game with the Vikings already leading 4-1, Eastern worked the ball into the offensive circle. Santore took the ball and ripped a hard shot that just missed Minutemaid goalie Natalie Ricevuto’s left pad to make it 5-1.
Well said: “I think player for player we’re as good as any other team that I’ve had, but I’m proud of where we are right now because I feel like we’re growing and peaking at a really good time and that’s exciting. I’ve had teams that have peaked at appropriate times and it couldn’t be more fun. I’m proud of where we are right now.” – Eastern coach Danyle Heilig.