By Jacob Sisson
If the Pierson/Bridgehampton Lady Whalers (6-5-0, 6-4-0) field hockey team wants to make the playoffs this year in division three, games like Tuesday’s 4-1 win against Southampton, who came into the game with a 5-4 division record, take on extra importance. The Lady Whalers, who boasted an identical record in Division III, were tied for fourth with their opponents when Tuesday’s action commenced. The middle of the Division III standings is crowded, and Pierson/Bridgehampton needed a win to pull themselves away from Port Jefferson (5-5-0, 5-6-0) and Rocky Point (5-5-0, 7-5-0) as well as Southampton and consolidate their position in the playoff race.
While she was hesitant to consider this game a must win, Pierson/Bridgehampton coach Shannon Judge was aware what was on the line.
“We need to win four of our last five games,” said Judge. “This game was definitely an important one.”
With one of the team’s final five games against undefeated Division VIII leaders Shoreham Wading River, the Lady Whalers had to make the best of their opportunities against teams close to them in the standings. Bouncing back from a 2-0 loss to second placed Miller Place on Friday would be key to victory against Southampton.
“Last time we scored three goals in the second half in the first ten minutes,” said Judge of the team’s September 27 away victory over Southampton, in which the team scored four second half goals and took the win to the tune of 4-0. “For this game, our goal was to come out just as aggressive from the start. I think we achieved our goal.”
The team made good on their coach’s intentions, starting out the game the more motivated side, and exerting their offensive prowess. Southampton has historically had trouble scoring against the Lady Whalers, and the first half of the game was no different.
It took only seven minutes for the Lady Whalers to get off the mark, as senior captain Lindsay Warne grabbed the game’s first goal. Warne made good on an assist from junior Lilah Yardley, who would also get on the score sheet later in the game. Pierson/Bridgehampton’s advantage did not last long, however, as Southampton equalized with a goal from Lauren Antilety. A yellow card meant that the Lady Whalers had let in the goal while playing a man down. “The yellow card put us in a 5 minute slump, but we returned after it very strong,” said coach Judge.
With just under eight minutes remaining in the half, Pierson/Bridgehampton was the next team to find the goal, as senior captain Alexa Lantiere capitalized on a direct corner shot and put the Lady Whalers up 2-1.
Just five minutes later, the Lady Whalers extended their advantage to two goals, as Samantha James slotted home the team’s third score of the game. From the right hand side, James tried to latch on to a cross sent in front of goal. As the Pierson/Bridgehampton offense and Southampton defense crashed to the goal line, confusion reigned. Somehow, James got her stick to the ball, and after opposing sticks blocked her first two attempts, her third try finally found the back of the net. After two more minutes of ball control, the referees called time on the first half, with Pierson/Bridgehampton enjoying a 3-1 lead.
Pierson/Bridgehampton seemed to come out of the half lacking some of the energy that had established their two-goal lead at the break. Southampton pushed the Lady Whalers into their own defensive zone for the first minutes of the second half, forcing junior goalkeeper Catherine Musnicki into a save just three minutes in. After that, Pierson/Bridgehampton began to wake up, as Warne and Lantiere began to find space down the right hand side and force chances.
On the opposite end, the Pierson/Bridgehampton defense was doing a good job closing down Southampton’s efforts. A series of Southampton rushes were well controlled by the Lady Whaler defense, and Southampton was never able to test Musnicki.
It was Yardley who found the breakthrough for the Lady Whalers in the second half, in a goal that much resembled the team’s final goal of the first half. After some excellent passing and control from Warne, the ball found its way right in front of goal. Yardley put herself in the right place at the right time, poking the ball through a goal line scrum.
Following the fourth goal for Pierson/Bridgehampton, the game became a battle between the team’s midfields. Southampton looked dangerous on the counter attack, while the Lady Whalers focused on linking passes and controlling the game’s pace. In the closing stages of the game, Lantiere had another promising chance blocked, while another dangerous looking shot was dragged just wide. Shortly thereafter, the referees called full time, and awarded Pierson/Bridgehampton their sixth win of the season.
If anyone knows the importance of late season wins, it is the senior tri-captains Samantha James, Alexa Lantiere and Lindsay Warne. Each led by example in their final game against Southampton, barring a playoff rematch, with all three scoring a goal and Lantiere adding an assist. Also of note was the continued emergence of freshman Kasey Gilbride, who coach Judge pointed to as one of the keys to the game.
“Kasey Gilbride and Alexa Lantiere really controlled the midfield and brought the ball up. On the forward line was Lindsay Warne. Sariah Cafiero and Lilah [Yardley] were there in the midfield to pick up the loose balls.” Gilbride’s adaptability also stuck out in her coach’s mind, as she becomes a more and more important part of the team. “Kasey started out in the center of defense and then transitioned to the center of the midfield. She helped us keep pushing throughout the game.”
“Southampton started out the season rated above us, and were also rated above us at the half season, so this is a game we had to win,” said Judge. “I don’t want to talk about the postseason yet. Right now Rocky Point is whom we’re gunning for. I really want to set our next goal as beating Rocky Point.”
Before Pierson/Bridgehampton can think about Rocky Point, they needed to get through their game yesterday against Division III leaders Shoreham-Wading River on Wednesday. Following an away game against Riverhead, Rocky Point will come to Mashashamuet Park on October 25, which will be the final home game for Pierson/Bridgehampton’s eight seniors and the final home game of the year.