EWING — For the Bridgewater-Raritan High School field hockey team, it’s like the worst kind of déjà vu that keeps coming back at this time every year.
For the eighth consecutive season, the Eastern High School Vikings claimed the NJSIAA Group IV State title, winning 9-2, and for the eighth consecutive season, Bridgewater-Raritan was forced to stand on the sideline and watch the celebration.
After getting up 7-0 at intermission, Eastern only added two goals after the break, something that pleased Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Kathie DeBonis.
“We really stepped it up after halftime. We’ve been battling a couple of serious injuries this postseason and I think playing every other day didn’t give us any rest, but the kids did a great job to work through adversity and we made a few changes due to that and they did everything we’ve ever asked of them,” DeBonis said. “It was really about telling them, ‘Let’s play our game. If the ship is going down, let’s play our game,’ and I just told them to relax and control what we can control and we tried to just play and see where the chips would fall.”
Bridgewater-Raritan’s season was highly successful leading into Sunday’s matchup with the Vikings, losing just one game and capturing the Somerset County title and the NJSIAA North 2 Group IV crown, but Eastern continued to stand in the Panthers’ way of a state championship.
“Eastern is strong in every area and this is close to the quintessential team that she’s ever had over there,” DeBonis said. “This is definitely one of the best teams Eastern has had, if not the best.”
Christen Piersanti did everything aside from standing on her head in the Bridgewater-Raritan net, turning aside 14 shots on the game. The senior goalie, who had helped lead the Panthers to a 23-1 record over the course of the season with rock solid play between the pipes, knew what type of game this would be for her and the Panthers defense.
“I expected everything that was going to be coming my way and there isn’t much we could have done to slow them down,” Piersanti said.
The Panthers’ offense, which was led all season long by Cathernie Caro and Rachel Yaney, simply couldn’t get anything going against the Eastern defense, routinely having to turn around and play defense instead of heading towards the goal. Caro did notch a goal late in the second half, with the outcome in doubt, her 37th of the season. But Eastern’s defense was especially stout throughout the contest.
Emily Miller got Bridgewater-Raritan on the board with 8:25 remaining in the contest and Caro’s goal came inside of the final minute of regulation.
For Eastern, Austyn Cuneo notched her 67th and 68th goals of the season, just one off her New Jersey state record that she set last season as a freshman. Five different players scored at least once for Eastern (25-0). DeBonis knew that Eastern would come out with a solid offensive attack, but also added that Piersanti faces some of the best in practice every day.
“Christen did do a good job and she gets hits against Yaney and Caro and Paustian every day in practice, but they just happen to have eight or nine girls that can hit it like that and that was hard to prepare for,” DeBonis said.