Tigers advance to title game
Sara Jones of Northwestern (15) holds off a Notre Dame defender as she dribbles the ball up the field.
SALISBURY TOWNSHIP The first time that Northwestern and Notre Dame of Green Pond met on a soccer field this season, the result was a lopsided win for the Tigers.
That fact made it hard to believe the two teams would meet again in the league semifinals at Salisbury High School Wednesday night to determine a spot in the championship game.
This time around, the improved Crusaders put up a much tougher battle before bowing to undefeated Tigers, 3-1.
"I don't believe the first time we played them that we saw the real Green Pond," Northwestern coach Kelly Bleam said about the 8-0 regular season win. "Tonight was the actual Green Pond team and we knew that they would give us a tough fight."
Northwestern took a 1-0 halftime lead before adding two more goals in the second half to eventually advance to a rematch with Palisades, a winner over Southern Lehigh in the first semifinal of the night.
Sara Jones, an All-League First Team selection at midfield, scored the first goal of the night on a high-arcing shot attempt that grazed Notre Dame goalie Gabby Talijan's outstretched hand to hit twine for the early lead with 12:55 left in the opening half.
"That was big because I thought we came out a little flat tonight," Jones said about her goal. "It definitely gave us a little momentum, so that was huge."
The score remained that way the remainder of the half despite a great opportunity for the Tigers at the seven minute when a shot at an open net sailed just wide.
"We played okay tonight," Bleam observed. "A big part of that, though was because Green Pond took us out of our attempts. We missed some golden opportunities to finish."
The beginning of the second half continued the way the first half ended with Northwestern controlling the possession and consistently attacking the Notre Dame goal. With 22:26 left, Anna Fricchione found Sabrina Mertz in front of the net and Mertz left-footed the ball to the bottom right corner of the net.
"I just knew we needed another goal and knew once we added to that lead, that we would calm down a little more," Mertz said. "I thought we controlled possession well tonight as a team and that was the difference."
No sooner did the Tigers relax that the Crusaders made them pay. Shannon Moran launched a shot that got past goalie Lorraine Feinour, cutting the Northwestern lead to with 19:30 remaining.
"This is the farthest that we've ever gotten in the history of the program," said Notre Dame coach Tony Billone. "So we're very proud of the way our girls played tonight. Our girls gave everything they had on the field and we couldn't be prouder."
Less than two minutes after the Crusaders made it interesting, however, Northwestern answered back as Angela Motolese scored on a break away down the left side of the field to produce the final score.
Northwestern, which held a commanding 24-6 shot advantage in the game, will play Palisades Friday night for the title at 7 p.m. at Salisbury. The first time the two met, Palisades took an early lead, before the Tigers pulled off an overtime win.
"We obviously have to respect what (Palisades) brings to the field, and hopefully that will bring out the best in our team," Bleam said. "We'll be ready."