By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Ocean City field hockey team — a perennial powerhouse in the Cape-Atlantic League — had no goals and just one shot on goal to show for the first 30 minutes the Red Raiders played against host and CAL rival Egg Harbor Township on Wednesday afternoon.
As soon as the halftime whistle sounded, Raiders coach Kelsey Burke hustled her team into the goal area on the visiting side of the field and let her team know, in no uncertain terms, that it wasn’t tough enough to beat the Eagles if it continued to play the way it had in the first half.
In military jargon, you might call the Red Raiders’ response H-U-A — heard, understood, acknowledged.
Ocean City responded with a much better effort in the final 30 minutes, getting a pair of goals from junior attack Julia Neff to beat EHT, 2-1, in a thriller. The game-winning tally came with just six seconds left on the clock.
“We just got it, got a really good ball up, and (the shot) was just open. It was a really tough game, but we all pulled through and worked together really well. It felt really good (to score the winning goal),” Neff said. “We all just had to pick it up a little bit. Our coach was really inspiring (at halftime). We really picked it up.”
“It was a tough game the whole time. They are an amazing team, really good competition,” said Ocean City senior captain Andi Helphenstine. “It’s cool to have a (Cape-Atlantic League) game that is that tough. There were a lot of emotions because it was so close. We’ve had a lot of overtime games (against EHT) and I think that’s what everyone figured was going to happen, so it was very exciting that we were able to pull it out with such short time (left on the clock).”
“In the first half we weren’t playing very tough — but credit EHT, they are a tough team,” Burke said. “They will run through you and they like to play physical field hockey. I told our kids at halftime, I thought we were shying away. I was proud of them the second half because I did think we played a bit tougher. I was happy we were able to punch through those two goals — and, more importantly, respond after they tied it. We’re an older team, and our veterans kept their heads and we were able to squeak that one out.”
Ocean City (3-1, 3-0 Cape-Atlantic League American) was outplayed throughout much of the first half but it’s defense held strong, bringing the game to the halftime break scoreless thanks to a solid effort from sophomore goalie Taryn Dolka, who finished the game with 13 saves. She denied several corners from EHT (1-2, 1-1 CAL American), including making a diving save on a wicked backhanded shot by EHT star Jenna Gray.
The Red Raiders finally got on the board with about four minutes remaining in the third quarter, as Neff poked in a rebound off a corner. Kelsea Cooke had the initial shot that was saved, but Neff was there on the right side of the goal to push the loose ball in and give Ocean City a 1-0 lead. EHT rebounded, though, tying the game at 1 on a goal by Kara Wilson off an assist from Gray, who was neutralized throughout much of the second half by a strong defensive effort from Ocean City.
“In the third quarter, Kate Cossaboon was a standout for us,” coach Burke said. “She really held down the fort going against their top kid, Jenna Gray. I think that really helped us gain our confidence back and gain a little momentum.”
It looked as though the game would head to overtime, but with less than a minute to go Ocean City made a charge up the field that was finished off by Neff with just six ticks left on the clock.
“This gives us a lot of confidence. The whole team should be pumped up for the rest of the week,” Neff said.
“Julia played a great game,” Burke said. “She’s fast, she’s skilled and she was generating a lot of offense for us today. I’m super proud of her scoring those two goals for us.”
Burke said she knew what her team was in for before making the trip to EHT. The Eagles were one of just three teams to beat the Red Raiders last year.
“They just play so hard. They have a toughness about them. They’ll run right through you to try to score goals,” she said. “We’re going to see them again, and the next time we see them we know it will be just as physical and just as tough a game. Hopefully we’ll make some improvements and be ready.”
The win was a nice rebound from Saturday for Ocean City, which got thumped, 8-0, by state powerhouse West Essex. The Red Raiders will continue to see tough competition, too, as they travel to Rancocas Valley this weekend and have some huge matchups against powerful teams such as Lenape, Cherokee, Shore Regional, Haddonfield and Southern Regional later in the season.
“Saturday will be a good test with Rancocas Valley. They are a Group 4 school so that will be another big test like EHT,” Burke said. “We got our butts kicked on Saturday, and that was humbling. They are one of the top teams in the state and we knew that going in, so we have to watch that film and today’s and make some corrections.”
Added Helphenstine, “we have a tough schedule this year, which should prepare us really well for the postseason. We had a tough loss on Saturday to an amazing team, West Essex, so it was cool to come back out here and rebound against EHT because they are such good competition as well.”
What’s next: Ocean City travels to Rancocas Valley on Saturday at 10 a.m. EHT hosts Lenape on Friday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays