MENDHAM _ Mendham's 8-7 girls lacrosse victory over Chatham on Saturday, April 14 doesn't make up for the Cougars' victories which eliminated the Minutemen in county and state tournaments last year but it sure felt good.
Kelly McIntyre scored twice, including her 100th varsity goal, and freshman Ashley Peck scored three goals, including the eventual gamewinner for Mendham. Jess Beneducci also had two goals for the Minutemen (3-4).
Paige Guenther and Lizzie O'Neill had two goals apiece for Chatham (3-4).
Mendham led 6-3 at halftime and Chatham rallied late but never passed the Minutemen.
The victory will go a long way to netting Mendham a good seed in the Morris County Tournament seedings on Tuesday in what has been a topsy-turvy year so far.
"This win means so much," senior attack Kolina Unger said. "I've been on varsity since I was a freshman. Every year, Chatham is one of our biggest rivals. Last year, they knocked us out of states and counties. This victory means everything to us."
Building an early lead made a difference to the Minutemen, who were able to pull ahead with a pair of man-advantage goals early in the half to break a 6-6 tie. They were also able to gain possession late in the game and stave off Chatham's rally.
"In my varsity career at Mendham, we have lost to Chatham six times," McIntyre said. "Every time, it has been so devastating. So close. It's a competitive game. Today, we came out and really wanted it."
McIntyre, a senior center, played a pivotal role, not only with her scoring ability, but her tenacity on the draws, some of which she captured on her own.
"They were changing up their draw girls a lot,'' McIntyre said. "I like to pull it back to teammate Carleigh Mahoney. She is great at getting those scrappy draw controls. We know where we are going to be (on draws). We get the head nod going. It works out well.''
A check that got a little too close to the head of a Mendham player made the difference as Chatham was forced to play a man short. Chatham's Callie Riabov tied the game 6-6 with 7:22 remaining. Mahoney captured McIntyre's draw and was fouled. The Minutemen worked the ball around and McIntyre earned a free position opportunity.
She had to fake high and shoot law, drawing Chatham goalie Kat Friday to commit before putting the ball in the back of the net and giving her team the lead for good with 5;32 remaining in regulation.
"We are all pretty intimidated by Kat,'' McIntyre said. "She is one of the greatest players. We have to think about where we are going to shoot it.''
Mendham still had the advantage and won the draw. They would score again 43 seconds later when Ashley Peck notched her third goal of the game. She made a move on the crease and got open when Chatham defenders converged on Beneducci during another free position and slipped the ball in.
The twin Peck sisters - Ashley on offense and Melanie on defense - have made an impact.
"She rolls the crease well as a freshman,'' Unger said of Peck. "She is really good at that. In her first game on varsity she had five goals.''
It made the score 8-6 with 4:49 left. The Mendham defense with Mia Martini Jessie Chiotellis, Melanie Peck, Beneducci and Madison Hranicka made the goals stand up. Competing against the likes of Oak Knoll, Summit and now Chatham over the last week has helped the Minutemen tighten things up in the back.
"We play the toughest competition in the state every single year which is great,'' Unger said. "Our record doesn't show how well we play and how good a team we are because of our competition.''
O'Neill's goal with 2:24 left made it a one-goal game but Mendham won the draw and Chatham never touched the ball the rest of the way.
"It feels great,'' McIntyre said. "They are such big rivals. It is such an honor. We have such great teamwork. I am so happy for my team."