BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. — It was a battle of unbeatens. One side had a warehouse full of plaques and trophies, while the other side had none to speak of. It was a clash of high-powered offenses and stingy defenses. The defending champion versus the team on the rise.
There were many different storylines heading into the Section 1 Class A final between five-time defending champion Lakeland/Panas and North Rockland.
And the new kid on the block is the new champion.
No. 2-seeded North Rockland defeated top-seeded Lakeland/Panas, 10-9, in the Section 1 Class A final on Thursday at Fox Lane High School. The Red Raiders won their first Section 1 title in program history.
“It feels really amazing especially because we never made it to the section finals ever and winning it is just an unbelievable feeling,” said senior Tara Monaghan, who had two goals and two assists. “We came in feeling we had nothing to lose. We watched them on tape and knew what they had. We knew that we could beat them.”
Lakeland/Panas’ Alex Fitzpatrick scored on an assist from Alexa Bonnes with 6:17 to play but the Rebels didn’t touch the ball again. The Red Raiders passed the ball effectively and ran out the clock.
“We knew we had to be smart and use our heads,” Monaghan said. “We practice that so much; killing the time and passing, cutting. We just used our heads, our skill and we never gave up.”
“That’s our strategy,” North Rockland coach Greg Borchers said of running the clock. “They’re so athletic and they give us match-up problems on the draw circle with their height. They play such a heavy pressure defense that if you force it, that’s exactly what they want. They want to get out and run. We tried to negate those two things; move the ball away from the pressure and not allow them to run.”
North Rockland closed the game on a 6-2 run after Lakeland/Panas had scored seven straight goals.
“Everyone’s been picking against us the entire year, but they’ve never seen us play,” Borchers said. “The kids have been coming in a bunch of days a week since November. Even when these girls were playing other sports they were dedicating themselves. They’ve been playing together since the fourth or fifth grade. It’s not an underdog story. We weren’t the underdog all year.”
The Red Raiders played very patiently throughout much of the game and limited the Rebels’ possessions. They started the contest on a 4-0 run and ate up a large chunk of the clock in the first half.
“From the beginning, this was what our goal was,” said sophomore Lauren Mazza, who scored three goals. “We wanted to win the section finals. They’ve won the past five years. They thought it was going to be an easy game, so we just came out strong.”
“I wasn’t surprised,” Monaghan said of the fast start. “I knew that we’ve worked so hard for this. I knew it was going to be close and I also knew that they would come back, so we had to just always be ready.”
Lakeland/Panas didn’t score its first goal until there was 7:50 left in the first half when Amanda Vasta (2G) found the back of the net. Emma Bozek scored with 21 seconds left in the first half to give the Rebels a 5-4 halftime edge.
“Even though they scored on their first four possessions, I felt we were in good shape,” Lakeland/Panas coach Sharon Sarsen said. “We weren’t panicking and didn’t change anything dramatically. Then we started winning draws and played the way we’re capable of playing.”
Bozek and Fitzpatrick each tallied a goal to start the second half to extend Lakeland/Panas’ lead to 7-4. Then North Rockland went on its run. Monaghan tied it at 7-7 and then Mazza gave the Red Raiders the lead. Kaitlyn Rau put North Rockland up 9-7 with 15:09 to play. Bozek answered for the Rebels, but Kelly Dowd responded right back to give North Rockland a two-goal edge again with 10:47 left.
“It was a game of runs,” Sarsen said. “In the second half, when it started to settle a little bit, their goalie made some big saves on us when we were point blank and that was the difference. My hats off to (North Rockland).”
Rau and Dowd each tallied two goals apiece for North Rockland (18-0-1). Katie Lonergan came up with some crucial saves and finished with six.
Fitzpatrick sparked the Rebels (16-1-2) with three goals and three assists. Bozek recorded three goals and one assist, while Bonnes had one goal and one assist.
It was an incredible run for the Rebels, who defeated Suffern in each of the last five Class A sectional finals.
“They’re great athletes and they had a great run,” Sarsen said. “They were one goal short this time. We’ve been on the other end of it a couple times and this time we’re on the wrong end of it.”
The Red Raiders advance to the regional semifinals where they will face either Kingston or Warwick Valley of Section 9 on Wednesday, May 30 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston at 5 p.m.
“We just want to keep our streak going and keep playing like we are,” Monaghan said.
“We want to win everything we can,” Mazza said.
Follow Rob DiAntonio on Twitter @MSGV_RJD