MADISON _ The scoreboard was where reality resided: Oak Knoll 5, Madison 0.
In the Dodgers' minds, though, they were victorious. In other years, this way of thinking likely would not be acceptable but, in the 2016 season opener, a bit of skewed logic was permissible.
Madison, the defending NJAC-Liberty, Morris County Tournament and Group II titlist, denied the Royals, the Tournament of Champions runner-up, for 34 minutes and 58 seconds. The fact that the Dodgers, who graduated 12 seniors, seven of them starters, held Oak Knoll scoreless for that long certainly was an achievement.
"I'm not disappointed at all," Madison coach Ann Marie Davies said after the Sept. 8 matchup. "I'm pleased with our play. I'm happy. We had a strong first half. I'm proud because we played one of the best teams in the state and did pretty well. We're young. We're taking it as a victory because this is where we want to be right now. We can only go forward and up after this."
The game marked the varsity debut of Madison sophomore goalie Nicole Ducey, who finished with 14 saves versus the relentless Royals. Also notable was the return of junior defender Caroline Blount, sidelined for half of the 2015 campaign after suffering a concussion. Blount, superb as sweeper, sustained the concussion in the 12th game last season. That, too, was against Oak Knoll so being back on the field meant a lot to Blount.
Ducey stood tall, fending off shot after shot. Nervous prior to the game, she was not flustered and made two critical saves in one-on-one situations in the first half.
"I think the energy we had helped us in the beginning," Ducey said. "Oak Knoll is a tough team. I was nervous before. Once I got to the cage and made two or three saves, I felt confident."
Blount toiled and repelled a substantial amount of the Royals' advances deep in Madison territory. She felt that the Dodgers put in a cohesive effort and remained up even after Oak Knoll began converting.
"We've been preparing for this for weeks," Blount said. "We wanted to go out and show everyone who thinks this will be a rebuilding year for us that we're still good, that we can hang with the tough teams. I think we showed who we are. The score is not indicative of how well we played."
Davies said Blount was and is "solid as a rock." In addition to Ducey and Blount, Maddie Farrell and Elizabeth Romano displayed defensive prowess, making stick saves. Farrell interrupted a direct shot while Romano stopped a corner attempt. Backs Maddie Stein and Cristina Smith turned in solid efforts on "D."
The Royals, who have 10 starters back, received two goals and an assist from Gabby Andretta. Bridget Murphy broke the scoreless deadlock 4:58 after halftime, knocking the ball in after getting a pass from Andretta. Two minutes later, Oak Knoll struck again as Andretta connected. For the next 15 minutes, the Royals were silent on attack before Andretta scored for the second time. Ali McCarthy and Bella Brosie added a goal apiece.
Blount was not in the game when the initial goal was scored. After being hit in the back of the head, she was removed so she could be checked by the trainer. Her brief absence, according to Ducey, made a big difference.
"We got mixed up with Caroline out," Ducey said. "There was a lot of confusion."
Romano, a member of the U-17 USA National Team, provided Madison with its best opportunities to score. Her last shot on goal followed a 50-yard breakaway. Jordan McGinley batted down Romano's shot on goal with 4:23 remaining. Freshman forward/midfielder Margaret Sheeleigh
From this point on, the Dodgers, seeking to improve their collective confidence, will keep on pushing.
"We were worried how we'd do coming off of last season," Davies said. "This was a good game for us and we saw what we can do. We're looking at it positively."
Latest from Sandy Seegers