Tigers reach D-11 final
The margin of victory doesn’t really matter. That’s a good thing for the Northwestern Lehigh field hockey team, because they’ve been winning by the slimmest of margins. But it’s getting them to where they want to be.
It only takes one seems to be the rally cry of the Lady Tigers as they head toward the Class A district final after a 1-0 win over Saucon Valley Monday night.
“It’s playoffs,”said head coach Lissa Opolsky of the close string of games. “You can’t expect anything else in playoffs, because your record, your numbers, nothing else matters in playoffs.
“When you step on the field, it’s just two teams playing their best and that’s what we’ve had over the past two-plus games.”
The win continued a stretch of close, tough games that saw Northwestern beat Palmerton 1-0 in the quarterfinals last week. Before that, they were on the downside of a one-goal game when they lost to Southern Lehigh 3-2 in double overtime in the Colonial League semifinals.
“Our girls have seen a mental challenge as much as the physical and hockey challenge and that makes us better every game we step into,” said Opolsky. “We know that no matter what, whether we’re down a goal or up a goal, it only takes one.”
The one for Northwestern came with 5:45 left in the first half of Monday’s game when Tess Ledeboer got loose on a breakaway and put a shot on goal. Brynn Balliet helped redirect the shot slightly to get it past goalkeeper Grace Albano for the game’s only goal.
“Tess had an amazing breakaway and then she crossed it and I thought it was going in,” said Balliet. “But then I saw that I had the opportunity to tip it and I got a stick on it and it went in. It was a great setup by her.”
“Tess, Brynn and Brooke [Page] and Brinley [Rex] have all been working really hard to change their games and make some runs that they don’t normally make,” said Opolsky. “Tess was making one of those runs at that time and Brynn happened to be in the right place at the right time. It only takes one.”
Both teams played strong defensively, but in the second half, Saucon Valley seemed to turn around Northwestern’s first half control and put more pressure on the Tigers defense. Much of the game’s second half was played in Northwestern’s defensive zone and while the Tigers weren’t flawless, the defense was up to the task, as was goalie Maxine Hoffman.
“They were trying to capitalize on some of our defensive mistakes and we weren’t completely clean on the defensive end, especially on some of their corners,” said Opolsky. “We would have hoped to control the ball a little better in the second half, but we’ll work on that moving forward.”
Balliet believes that the tough string of games is going to help fuel the team through the rest of their run and is making them a better team overall. Even the loss to Southern Lehigh couldn’t keep the team down and they used it as a launchpad to give them added incentive in districts.
“We knew we were close and we weren’t done yet and we couldn’t let that affect how we played and that we just had to come back stronger and that’s what we did,” said Balliet. “Having good, tough games is good for us. It’s teaching us to play tougher and be ready and we’re really excited for the championship and to see what we can do.”
Last season was the first time in a long time that Northwestern reached the District 11 championship game. Now, the Tigers heave least repeated what they accomplished last season and have guaranteed themselves a spot in the PIAA tournament, which begins next week. That’s not good enough for the Tigers as they look to go one step beyond last year’s finish.
“I think we’re better prepared this year and we can go pretty far,” said Balliet.
While Northwestern would have liked to get some revenge against Lehighton for beating them in last year’s finals, the Lions aren’t going to be there this season. Lehighton was pushed to overtime and lost 2-1 against Moravian Academy Monday night. The Tigers will face top-seeded Moravian Academy for the District 11 class A championship.
That game was played Wednesday night, after Press deadline. See next week’s issue for coverage of the championship game.