WATCHUNG — Behind Championship Game MVP Dayle Paustian, the Bridgewater-RaritanHigh School field hockey team (18-1) captured their fifth straight Somerset County Tournament title, besting Montgomery 5-1 Saturday afternoon at Mount St. Mary’s Academy.
Paustian scored two goals and added an assist and Cat Caro also had three points as the Panthers wrapped up the SCT, out-scoring their three opponents in the tournament by a combined score of 16-1.
But Bridgewater-Raritan fell behind early against a pesky Montgomery team (11-5-3) that refused to roll over and die. After the Panthers secured the game’s first six corners, but could not score, Montgomery used a corner of their own to get the contests’ first goal. With just over eight and a half minutes to play until halftime, Tori Rudo banged home a loose ball in front of the Bridgewater-Raritan net, giving the third-seeded Cougars the lead.
Three minutes later, the Panthers found the equalizer, with Paustian sending a Caro pass into the back of the net. Bridgewater-Raritan controlled the play for the remainder of the half, earning two more corners and jumping in front when Caro dove for a loose ball and whipped it past Montgomery goalie Kiran Sunduram, making the score 2-1.
“I thought we started out a little bit slow today, but the girls kicked it into gear and they played with composure and came back and got into our game,” Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Kathie DeBonis said. “Once we were in our game, we were able to control the ball. We just had a bit of an issue finishing in the beginning of the game; Montgomery did a really nice job covering up in the circles, but once we got into our groove, we knew we had control of the game.”
In the second half, the Panthers seemed to get to most of the 50-50 balls, keeping possession inside the Montgomery end and forcing the Cougars to play defense. Eight minutes into the final stanza, Rachel Yaney scored a beautiful goal, backhanding the ball inside the near post off a Bridgewater-Raritan corner, upping the Panthers’ advantage to 3-1.
From there, the Panthers just tried to keep the ball away from their own net, but Montgomery stepped up their pressure, at one point winning four consecutive corners, but could not score.
Paustian scored her second goal of the contest with just over 11 minutes to play and Emily Howarth collected a goal of her own nine minutes later, capping the scoring.
For the game, the Panthers earned 17 corners to Montgomery’s five. DeBonis credited winning that battle to the philosophy of her squad.
“We play possession-ball, we play a stick-to-stick game and we take a lot of pride in that, so it’s just a culmination of what we do in practice and games prior to today,” DeBonis said. “The kids have really bought into what we’re doing and they just go out there and do what we ask.”