MOUNTAIN LAKES _ Anything can happen when it comes to the state tournament.
Oak Knoll, spurred by sophomore Annabelle Zebrowski's season-high eight goals, got hot at the right place at the right time with the right player and stunned Mountain Lakes with a dominating 15-9 victory in the North Group I title game on Wednesday, June 1.
Sara McKenna, Claire Gavin and Diana Kelly had two goals each and goalkeeper Sarah McCall had a strong performance with 10 saves for Oak Knoll (15-8).
Mountain Lakes finished the season at 18-3. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Morris County Tournament champion. Senior Grainger Rosati had four goals and two assists. Classmate Sarah Bedard had a hat trick and Ashley Conner and Avery Holland also tallied for Mountain Lakes.
Oak Knoll had a 4-3 lead but exploded for seven of the next eight goals to take an 11-4 advantage at the half. The Royals never let the Lakers back into the game with solid defense and the play of goalkeeper McCall.
The stunning part about the result was that Mountain Lakes was just as dominating in the 8-3 win it had over Oak Knoll on April 29. So what happened in a little more than three weeks to tip the scales the Royals way?
"We put in a lot of preparation," Oak Knoll coach Rachel Lasda said. "We had three days of practice. We studied this team. This is a great program. They come out hard. They have really great players. We studied. We put in the work. We had a game plan and we went in and executed that game plan for two halves."
Part of the plan was finding a way to limit the scoring prowess of Rosati. The Lakers standout was shadowed constantly and often doubled. She also broke her stick in warmups which was a bad omen.
"Grainger couldn't have done anything more," Mountain Lakes coach Jen Topakas said. "I couldn't be more proud of the way that kid has played from her freshman year to now. She has become such a leader. She wanted the ball. What are you going to do? Keep giving her the ball whether she makes a mistake or makes a goal."
Mountain Lakes did what it wanted to do on defense and clamped down on Oak Knoll's standout Cassie Ford, who was held to one goal. However, Zebrowski took advantage of it and had the best offensive game of her varsity career.
"Today was the day for Annabelle to step up," Lasda said. "They had a face guard on Cassie and she was doing a really good job denying Cassie the ball. We needed other people to be goal scorers today – it was Annabelle. She played great."
Rosati scored a fast break goal at 10:25 to make it a 4-3 game before Oak Knoll took control. The Royals scored the next five goals with Zebrowski connecting on four of them.
"We tried to take Cassie Ford out of the game," Topakas said. "That was what we wanted to do and she (Zebrowski) stepped up. Certain things that we wanted to accomplish, we did. In a championship game, other kids have to step up. They had kids that stepped up and it made them successful."
Bedard broke Oak Knoll's run with a goal with 3:54 left to make it 9-4. However, Oak Knoll got two more before the half including Diana Kelly's goal with seven seconds left in regulation to make it 11-4.
The Lakers tried to make a run in the second half but every time they put a score on the board, the Royals matched it.
It was a rough finish for players like Rosati and goalie Julie Krupnick, a four-year starter who made 12 saves in her final game for the Lakers. Despite the difficult loss, Mountain Lakes should be pleased with their overall accomplishments this year.
"I couldn't be more proud of them," Topakas said. "We did have a great, successful season. We wanted to go on and play for the group championship. It just wasn't our day."