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Pequannock ends lengthy title drought

PEQUANNOCK TWP. _ There was no specific reason for Brynn Kelly's promotion to Pequannock's starting lineup.

The decision was made on Oct. 24, the day the Golden Panthers opened play in the state tournament. Since then, Kelly, a junior forward, has had a major impact on the attack, scoring a goal in each of Pequannock's postseason games.

On Friday, Nov. 1, nine days after earning her spot among the top 11, Kelly struck first, converting off a corner with 5:42 remaining in the opening half to help the Golden Panthers to a 3-0 victory over Boonton in the North Jersey Section 1, Group I final.

"This is so unreal," said Kelly of the sectional title, Pequannock's first since 2003. "We worked long and hard for it and we finally did it. This is amazing."

The Golden Panthers, slated to meet Shore Regional in a Group I semifinal on Tuesday, put in all three of their goals off corners. Charlotte Hardie scored the other goal in the first half, converting 1:09 before the break. Victoria Chavez made it 3-0 in the second half by sending the ball across the goal line with only 2:37 elapsed.

Pequannock coach Diane Bolchune was elated by the  win because of the 16-year stretch without a sectional championship. She was happy as well for Kelly, previously one of the first players off the bench.

"It's awesome. Unbelievable," Bolchune said. "The girls earned it. They deserve it. All we had to do was keep our composure and play the way we know how to play. If we get things in our heads, it shuts us down. It psyches us out. Brynn has been doing so well. She started clicking recently and is doing what we needed her to do. She's always in the right spot at the right time."

Kelly's goal came off an assist by Hardie. Kelly ran into the circle from the right side and went to the right post. Hardie sent the ball in and Kelly, also a member of the swimming and lacrosse teams, deflected it into the left side of the goalcage.

"It's been really exciting to start," Kelly said. "Right before our first state game, our coach told me I'd be starting. I was like 'OK. I've got to do this.'"

Junior center back Emily Deitch stood out on defense along with Alex Charenson and Molly Dolan. Deitch was intent on being part of a sectional title squad after hearing her batting coach, Emily Ringen, talk about the 2003 title run. Ringen, now the dean of students and head softball coach at Lyndhurst, was a freshman in high school when the Golden Panthers claimed their eighth sectional crown under legendary coach Carole Schoen.

"(Ringen) showed me some photos of her playing," Deitch said. "She told me it was great. We've lost to Boonton a lot over the last three years and, today, we didn't know what to expect. We just had to play our best and to put everything out there."

To get fired up for the game, each Pequannock player chose a quote that would be read during warmups. Deitch picked "Talent wins games but teamwork and inspiration win championships." They also wrote PEQ on the inside of their wrists.

"Each time we looked at the letters, we were reminded that we were playing for each other," Deitch said.

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Chatham lands berth in final

CHATHAM _ The members of the Chatham field hockey team couldn't contain themselves as they navigated the hallways of the high school prior to their North Jersey Section 2, Group III semifinal.

"We'd see each other and we'd yell. We'd shake each other," said Alexa Lee, whose second-half goals powered the second-seeded Cougars past Colts Neck 3-1 on Tuesday, Oct. 29. "Everyone was so excited."

The players, who wore their shooting shirts and uniforms to school, had an abundant amount of energy during the day and managed to turn it up even more at game time. That exuberance meant extra hustle and determination.

Lee, a junior forward, knocked in what proved to be the game-winning goal 6:11 after halftime. Lee, a first-year starter, received a pass from Gabby Cutlip and deflected the ball into the right post from close range.

"It's been a very long time since we've been to the sectional final and the girls deserve it," Chatham coach Kaitlin Leyden said. "The girls brought a lot of energy and it was hard to compete with it. It was their mindset... Their passing and technique were on and they were determined to win. They were all over the field."

Those factors kept Colts Neck at bay for much of the game. The Cougars' tenacity and focus halted the visitors nearly every time they had possession. Carlin Chazen, a junior, and Ella DuRie, a senior, were two of Chatham's standouts on defense.

Jess Thesing was the lone Colts Neck player to break through, connecting off a corner three minutes into the second half. Thesing's goal knotted the score, 1-1. The Cougars, however, did not get rattled.

"We worked so hard for it," Chazen said. "We were so pumped up for this. We worked together and communicated. We run a lot in practice. We condition every day and are disciplined. We knew what to do and knew we had to hustle."

After Colts Neck scored, Chatham, which has won three of its last four games after a three-game losing streak, allowed few opportunities. The players' minds were on moving to the sectional final and nothing was going to stop them. Lee ensured the trip to Friday's title game versus Middletown South, registering her second goal with 4:17 remaining. Lee dribbled into the circle, dodging two defenders on the way and took a shot. The Colts Neck goalie, Steph Lonano, dove to her left to make the save but Lee got a stick on it and sent the ball into the center of the goalcage.

In the opening half, the Cougars, who outshot Colts Neck, 11-6, received a goal off a corner from Avery Buckman with 9:37 left.

DuRie, one of nine seniors on Chatham's roster, described the win as "one of the best feelings."

"We all jelled," she said. "We're playing well. We've improved so much as the season has gone on."

According to Lee, the Cougars (13-4-2) likely will dress up for Halloween on Thursday and perhaps do some skits to stay loose. Last Friday, one day before their quarterfinal state tournament game against Somerville, Chatham went to a salon, Luxe on Main, and all of the players got cornrows, a bonding activity that lasted three hours.

"We're very close," Lee said. "We have great respect and an understanding of each other. We want this for each other. We want to keep playing."

Leyden is looking forward to the final as are her players.

"Being in the final is a great feeling," Leyden said. "We've been working on winning a sectional title since I got here. Win or lose, the girls are going to be proud of themselves."

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West Morris notches first MCT title

BOONTON _ Alex Belen said the slip of paper, carefully placed between her shinguard and her sock, was meant to be a reminder of what West Morris sought to accomplish in the Morris County Tournament final.

Champion, it read.

The eight-letter word, however, became more of a mandate, at least that's the way the top-seeded Wolfpack viewed it.

Belen, a senior right back, and her West Morris teammates channeled the word into a into their first MCT title on Tuesday, Oct. 15 by prevailing over Morristown-Beard, 2-1, in overtime.

"It was part of our locker room talk," Belen said. "We always do something special before every big game. Each letter in champion stands for something, like courage, hustle, perserverance. It's what we are as a team."

The Crimson, after a sluggish first half, displayed the same qualities, making for an epic title game between two squads vying for their first county title. Morristown-Beard was appearing in the final for the second consecutive year. Sarah Bietka snapped the 1-1 deadlock 1:38 into the first extra period, sending the Wolfpack into a spirited celebration in front of the Crimson goalcage.

"This is one of the best feelings ever," said Bietka, a senior inner. "We worked for years to have this feeling. To do what no other field hockey team in our school has done is..."

Bietka's goal materialized on the right side of the field. Sophia Prata brought the ball down and crossed to Bietka, who shot on goal. Morristown-Beard repelled it and Bietka picked up the rebound then sent the ball past three defenders and into the left side of the goalcage.

Bietka, the offensive MVP, deemed the score "my best ever" and noted that she had never converted in overtime.

"I've always loved to score but it's never been just me," she said. "Never. It's a team effort each time."

Twenty minutes after the decisive goal, West Morris lingered on the turf field at Boonton High School, taking photos and savoring what they had accomplished. In the midst of the post-game revelry, West Morris coach Courtney Barnett, elated by the win, did what she promised her players she'd do if they won - her eighth grade cheerleader dance.

"I'm so excited for them," said Barnett, a standout three-sport athlete at Morris Knolls High School before starring in field hockey at Rider University. "This is something we believed we could do after losing in the quarterfinals last season. The girls worked for it and it wasn't easy. To do it in dramatic fashion shows their heart and grit.

"The title has eluded us and we wanted it. It was a matter of executing. I know Morristown-Beard wanted it as much. Both teams were exhausted by overtime. Somehow, we were able to take it to another level and get the job done."

Prata posted the lone goal of the first half, knocking the ball in 13:01 before halftime. West Morris was in control from the start but was denied again and again by the Crimson (11-2).

Morristown-Beard emerged from the break driven and determined to pull even. Ella Singer, the transfer from Millburn High School who had the lone goal in the Crimson's upset of two-time defending champion Madison in the semifinals, connected off a corner 8:49 into the second half.

The goal jarred the Wolfpack, intent on staying calm and focused. Each team had multiple corner opportunities yet was unable to capitalize.

"For a split second, there was some worry," Belen said. "Then we said 'We've got this.' Our coach tells us never to get down on ourselves. We were resilient. We kept playing with a lot of heart."

Bietka thought "What will we do now?" when the Crimson knotted the score.

What they ended up doing was standing tall despite threats posed by Morristown-Beard. Victoria Bodnar, the goalie, with much assistance from the defense, was highly effective and ended with 11 saves. Sophomore forward Julia Carbone was stellar throughout, pressuring, cutting back and in front and redirecting the ball.

Crimson goalie Josie Ashton, who made eight saves, was named the defensive MVP. Defender Jesslyn Patricia was a presence, often thwarting the Wolfpack's attackers.

"Overtime is always tough," Morristown-Beard coach Kate Alderman said. "I'm incredibly proud of what this team did out there tonight. We picked up our play in the second half and played our game. We worked hard and were more aggressive."

Belen was elated to leave the field a winner. After all, it was only a year ago that West Morris, top-seeded again, was ousted in the quarterfinals.

"It's amazing, especially because of overtime," Belen said. "Morristown-Beard is great. They put up a fight. I can't believe this. It's so good to get the county title."

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West Morris blanks Cougars in MCT

BOONTON _ West Morris coach Courtney Barnett advised her players not to forget the game that brought their hopes of a Morris County Tournament title to an abrupt end.

Seeded second in 2018, the Wolfpack appeared likely to gain a berth in the semifinals and advice to the final. Tenth-seeded Parsippany had different plans and ousted West Morris 1-0 in the quarterfinal round.

Remembering the pain and disappointment of that early exit, West Morris, the top seed, blanked Chatham 4-0 in a MCT semifinal on Saturday, Oct. 12.

"That was awful," said Sophia Prata, who knocked in two goals against the Cougars, when recalling the upset. "Our coach told us to hold onto that feeling and use it when it was most needed. We were out for revenge today. To capitalize on that... I'm just speechless."

Seniors Jenna Leonhardt and Sarah Bietka also converted for the Wolfpack, intent on living up to their No. 1 seed. West Morris struck twice in a span of one minute, 38 seconds in the first half. The goal that put the Wolfpack up 1-0 came off the stick of Leonhardt 12:55 into the opening half. Lauren Compoli, who sprinted to get to the ball after it was cleared out of the circle following the corner, picked up the first of her two assists on the score.

Compoli, a midfielder, then set up Prata's goal which staked West Morris to a 2-0 lead less than two minutes later. Prata said there was "a lot of commotion in front of the goal" before she put the ball into the right side of the cage.

"There were relentless efforts and second efforts," Barnett said. "Lauren was one of the ones putting in the extra effort. That hustle makes a difference. Efforts like that take a lot off of one or two individuals doing it all."

Everyone was doing everything for the Wolfpack and there was simply no quit.

"We were very, very confident," Prata said. "We play as a team. Everything we do, we do as a team. It's so amazing to win. We have another opportunity to showcase our skills. That's because we did it together."

West Morris, which last appeared in the MCT final in 2016, falling 1-0 to Morristown, was intent on capitalizing early and it did. However, Chatham had its share of surges for the remainder of the first half and did not let up after the break either.

After halftime, Bietka and Prata knocked in goals off corners. Bietka put the Wolfpack up 3-0 three minutes into the second half. Prata closed it out with 2:17 remaining.

"It's tough to see an opponent three times and to win three times," Barnett said. "Chatham is one of the best in the conference. It was huge to score first and to get on the scoreboard early."

The Bodnars, Victoria, the goalie, and Brittany, the left back, were solid on defense for West Morris (15-1-1). 

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Crimson shock Madison in MCT semifinals

BOONTON _ Morristown-Beard wasn't playing for a title - that's next - but the feeling was nearly the same, maybe even better.

The Crimson, buoyed by Ella Singer's goal off a corner 7:02 into the second half, edged two-time defending champion Madison, 1-0, in a Morris County Tournament semifinal on Saturday, Oct. 12 at Boonton High School.

It was Morristown-Beard's first win over the Dodgers in school history and earned it a return trip to the MCT final, where it will square off against top-seeded West Morris. Although Singer is a transfer from Millburn High School, she knows well the significance of the third-seeded Crimson ousting second-seeded Madison. It would be equivalent to the Millers stunning powerhouse West Essex.

"This is amazing," said Singer, a junior center midfielder. "It was great. It was just our time to show that we could do it."

Last fall, Singer had another exhilarating moment, registering the tying and winning goals when Millburn defeated Middletown South 3-2 to claim the North Jersey Section 2, Group III crown. It was special because it was the Millers' first sectional championship in 25 years.

Singer, the inserter on corners, sent the ball to Emma Karrat at the top of the circle. Karrat passed to Singer, who scored into the right side. It was a tense 22 minutes and 58 seconds before Morristown-Beard could exhale and soak in the historic victory.

"We've been so close and we've not quite done it," Crimson coach Kate Alderman said. "The girls have worked hard. They wanted it. It was a team effort all around. Beating Madison has been a goal of ours. We'll celebrate today then focus on what's next. We want to win the counties."

Annabel Plante, also a junior midfielder, considered the win over Madison, which had captured 23 MCT titles overall and 11 of the last 13, "surreal."

"Since freshman year, we've wanted to beat Madison," Plante said. "I think it happened because of the way we work together. We wanted it badly. It's incredible."

Apparently, so was the dance party that the Plante family hosted on Friday night. Not only did the Morristown-Beard players show off their dance moves, they feasted on pasta, chicken fingers and Halloween cookies. Despite the early start time - 9 a.m. - and some restless sleep, the Crimson were ready to go.

Singer admitted to being "a little nervous" about playing at 9 a.m. She rose at 6:30 and ate a protein bar. Plante had her mother, Kara, drive her to Time For A Bagel in Morris Plains before heading to the game.

A center forward before switching to the midfield, Singer has been invaluable to Morristown-Beard this season.

"Ella is used to being an attacker and our formation is different than what she's used to," Alderman noted. "Having her on the post to get tips is critical. She's really bought into our system. It's been great having her."

Alderman said that the entire defense stood out, so much so that it was difficult to fete a few players.

"We were recovering back," she said. "We had a quick counterattack. I think we caught them off guard with that. The defense supported one another. They were great at double teaming. Madison likes to dribble. We had to use our speed and quick passes."

Plante, a Harding resident, knows several of the Madison players, including goalie Charlotte Villano, a close friend, well. She and Villano went to kindergarten through middle school together at the Peck School. The triumph left her elated but she took time to think how Villano and the Dodgers must have felt.

Now it's on to Tuesday's final, slated for Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Boonton High School.

"It's helpful that we went last year," Alderman said. "We know what to expect and will have more confidence. There was nervous energy last year but we've already had the experience and will benefit from it."

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Nwankwo solid in first start for Falcons

JEFFERSON _ Always six inches taller than most girls her age, Jefferson's Amanda Nwankwo was rarely challenged when driving the lane during basketball games in middle school.

Nwankwo would make her way into the key and encountered little or no resistance.

"Everyone would back up," Nwankwo said. "They didn't want to get run over."

Three years later, Nwankwo, now 6 foot 3, remains an intimidating presence and is making an impact on a different court during her first year in high school. On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Nwankwo excelled in the first varsity volleyball start of her career, making eight kills and six blocks to pace the Falcons to a 2-1 win over Kinnelon in NJAC-Freedom Division match.

The victory was a monumental one for Jefferson because the Colts came into the match with a perfect record in league play and had not lost to a Morris County team. So, when Jefferson took the third game, 29-27, the Falcons felt a great sense of accomplishment, celebrating as if they had captured a championship.

"This is very rewarding," said Jefferson sophomore setter Emily Carcich, who had 21 assists and three aces. "From the start, we needed a lot of energy. We came together so well. We played the best we've played this year. We kept our heads in the game. We didn't think of past mistakes. We played every point like it was the last. We gave it our all."

Prior to the match, Falcons coach Gino Rose met in the hall with his quad captains - Carcich, Antonella Maffei, Kailyn Kerr and Amanda Novack. He told them "to fire up the team and keep them going for the entire match." In the locker room, Carcich, Maffei, Kerr and Novack did what they were instructed to do. They charged up their teammates and went out and prevailed in the first game, 25-19.

Nwankwo, making her debut, did not play like a freshman, exuding confidence and coming through with several kills and blocks.

"I wasn't really nervous," Nwankwo said. "I was ready. The coaches have been teaching me well. I worked my hardest. I think I did OK."

Rose made the decision to start Nwankwo, who had been playing junior varsity and seeing some varsity action, because he felt she was capable of a dominant performance.

"We needed a taller, bigger block in the middle," Rose said. "It's nothing against the other blockers but Amanda is a physical presence."

Carcich was happy for Nwankwo and said "she showed up and did what she had to do."

The two teams engaged in a hard-fought battle in the second game, too. Kinnelon had the upper hand in that one, 25-21. Jefferson trailed by three or four points early on in the decisive third game but was able to pull even, 22-22, on a Colts error. With Kinnelon up, 24-22, and seeking game and match point, the Falcons scored the next two points for 24-24. Neither squad would yield and there were three more deadlocks. Jefferson closed out by tallying three of the last four points.

The pressure of the close games didn't bother the Falcons, who are anxious to get some type of title this season or in the near future so their banner hanging in the gym won't be bare.

"It didn't get to me," Carcich said. "I think everyone else did fine, too. It was the excitement and the will to win. Everybody was loud. We were saying 'Always give your all' and 'Let's get it.' We really, really wanted this win."

As for Nwankwo, she intends "to keep swinging."

"I'm never going to back away," she said. "I'm very proud of everyone. I'm glad to be on this team."

The victory over Kinnelon commenced a five-game winning streak. The Falcons' mini run was halted by a setback to Roxbury in the MCT quarterfinals on Oct. 19.

Bombers in search of great moments

BOONTON _ Every team begins the season in search of something: Improved defense, an uptick in offensive output, more cohesive teamwork.

As for the Boonton field hockey team, they are seeking great moments. The Bombers know there may be only few at times. Ultimately, they'd like to string them together endlessly and knock off a few of Morris County's top squads.

On Monday, Sept. 9, the Bombers didn't have an excess of great moments but had enough to shut out Parsippany 1-0 in a game, whose outcome was determined by a second-half goal by Rebecca Deffler.

"We want to have more and more great moments every game," Boonton coach Cindy Tserkis-Schlitt said. "If we have solid passing combinations, it's going to be a great season. We have a lot of skilled individuals. We're meshing now."

That's absolutely true. After edging the Red Hawks, the Bombers, who have only four starters back, have gone 3-2-1. The two setbacks were by one goal to defending Morris County Tournament champion Madison (1-0) and MCT runner-up Morristown-Beard (2-1). According to Deffler, a senior left wing and two-year starter, Boonton possesses many noteworthy attributes.

"We've really connected this year," Deffler said. "We're focusing on team bonding and staying positive. There's constructive criticism as opposed to just criticism. We've got amazing players."

Deffler, too, mentioned assistant coach Tina Londino, indicating she's made a major impact. Londino guided Wayne Hills to three consecutive Passaic County titles from 2013-15.

"Coach Londino changed the team," she said. "We're playing together, not as 11 separate players."

Unselfishness and those highly desirable great moments have been on display over the last few weeks. Versus Parsippany, Deffler converted off a corner, snapping a scoreless deadlock with 9:34 remaining. Deffler inserted the ball, sending it to Rainey Clark at the top of the circle. Clark passed to Mya Russo, who tapped it into the right post.

Tserkis-Schlitt praised Clark, a senior offensive midfielder, for her "great vision and ability to set up the transitions upfield." Clark, a center back and center midfielder as a junior, certainly was active, bringing energy to the attack. Sophomore Bella Viruet was effective at forward as was her senior sister Angela, the center back.

In keeping with the theme of teamwork, everyone on the field for the Bombers did their part, denying Parsippany throughout, including late in the second half when it was determined to pull even.

"We're developing and regrouping," Tserkis-Schlitt said. "We graduated 13 seniors but we still have 12. Only a handful started. Everyone's got a phenomenal attitude. They grow every time they're on the field."

The Red Hawks dropped to 0-3 with the loss to the Bombers but coach Rebecca Lilienthal and her squad remain positive.

"We played much more together today," Lilienthal said. "We're moving in the right direction. They're listening to what we're saying and putting it together. Next, we need to convert on our opportunities."

Junior wings Lindsey DePetris and Priscilla Wong powered the attack for Parsippany, which was edged by one goal in each of its first four games, while senior Alex Bond and Kaitlyn Fang were effective in the midfield. Fang, one of five captains, sees many good signs and vowed that the team was not discouraged by the loss or being winless.

"I feel like we're communicating more," Fang said. "We're playing as a team and encouraging each other. We're covering back and moving up. We're growing as a team. We're not going to let past events get us down. We're going to use this as motivation to move us forward."

Two days after blanking Parsippany, Boonton fell to Madison. On Sept. 20, the Bombers turned in an excellent showing versus the Crimson.

"It felt good to come close," said Deffler, referring to the Madison game. "That's the cloest we've been in awhile. It motivated us and proved we can play against those teams."

Senior forward Sammy Brancato attributes some of the Bombers' success to a revamped offense. Their formation was changed prior to the first game and it didn't take long for Boonton to become acclimated to it.

"There's better support for the forwards," Brancato said. "We've adapted well. I think the team is doing really well, maybe a little better than expected."

 

 

 

 

Stackhouse two strokes behind Lee6

GALLOWAY _ Mariah Stackhouse didn't engage in deep thought about what a win at the ShopRite LPGA Classic would mean.

Rather than dreaming about the possibility of being the first African American woman to win a title on the tour, Stackhouse only had visions of putts traveling the green and dropping consistently.

Stackhouse had another solid round on Saturday, June 8, shooting a 67 for a two-day total of 133, a mere two strokes behind Jeongeun Lee6 (63-69-132). In a three-way tie for third place behind Lee6 and Stackhouse with 134 were Ally McDonald, Lexi Thompson and Nanna Koerstz Madsen.

New Jersey native Marina Alex, who grew up in Wayne, shot a 66 and had a 136. Annie Park, the defending champion, whose win at the 2018 ShopRite Classic was the first of her career, did not make the cut. Park had a two-day score of 143.

What made Stackhouse so zoned in on her putting? A year ago, also at the ShopRite Classic, she was paired with Annie Park for the final round, which was held on the Bay Course at the Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. She witnessed Park drain putts at a dizzying pace en route to the championship.

"I was in a group with Annie last year for the final round," Stackhouse said. "I think we were the second-to-last or third-to-last group and I watched Annie drain putts from all over that green. So that's what I'm seeing out here this week is I'm putting the best that I've putted all year. It's because I'm just seeing Annie dropping them from everywhere last year. That's good. That's my last memory of this golf course. So it's a good thing to come in with it the back of your mind."

Stackhouse's putting, obviously, was foremost in her mind. She skirted around the prospect of making history.

"I would only really think about that after the tournament is up," Stackhouse said. "Every single shot, that’s all I’m concerned with. Getting that number right, putting the right club in my hand and executing a solid shot. So there’s just no time for your mind to wander to any other things until the round is up."

A graduate of Stanford University, Stackhouse enjoys the layout of the Bay Course and has found success on it. 

"I think that I am fairly accurate off the tee," Stackhouse said. "I think being in the fairway out here is helpful because you have some longer holes where you can come in with some longer irons and hybrids into the wind and, when you're doing that, it's much easier to come into those greens out of the fairway. I think that's the key out here is if you're hitting it well off the tee, the trouble is minimal. But if you're in the rough a little bit and you find yourself in some of that fescue, the up and downs are easy.

"Take a look at these greens. The beauty of them is that they are small, which makes putting fun. The other side of that is that if you miss, you probably are off on the side and have somewhat of a tricky shot, unless you have a lot of green to work with. I think it's a lot of fun to navigate this golf course and, with the experience that I got out here last year, I kind of knew what needed to be done on what holes."

Stackhouse noted that the par 5s "give you opportunities" and, just like on the men's tour, players can go for the par 5s with irons.

Lee6, the 2019 U.S. Women's Open champion, concluded her round on Saturday with a birdie and an eagle. A bogey on the 15th hole served as motivation. The birdie came on the 17th hole, a 119-yard, par-3. She left herself 17 feet from the pin with an accurate tee shot then dropped the putt. On No. 18, a 507-yard par 5, Lee6 holed a four-foot putt for the eagle. She used a 6-iron for her approach shot from 185 yards and was aided by a back wind.

"I kind of wanted to make a birdie as much as I can and so, after Hole 15, I just wanted to finish strong," said Lee6, who would be only the fifth female golfer to claim the U.S. Open crown and the tourney immediately following it if she triumphs tomorrow. "Especially on Hole 16, I made a par. On Hole 17, I made a birdie. Hole 18, I made an eagle. I kind of wanted to finish strong and I did. I'm pretty satisfied with it." 

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Lee6 leads at ShopRite Classic

GALLOWAY _ Fresh off her win at the U.S. Open, Jeongeun Lee6 is confident, focused, determined and well-rested.

On Friday, June 7, Lee6 got right back down to business, shooting an 8-under-par 63 at the 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic and finds herself atop the leaderboard once again after the opening round of play.

Lee6 of South Korea, who had an impressive nine birdies and an eagle, was tied with Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum, whose first-round showing featured seven birdies and an eagle. Right behind them are Lexi Thompson, Muni He and Kristen Gillman, all with 64s.

Relaxed and experiencing no bouts of nervousness, Lee6 said she was satisfied with her round. Lee6's short game was on and she was in command as she navigated the Bay Course at the Seaview Resort during her afternoon round.

"I try to remind myself to just make my shots, to think about the rhythyms and everything and just to be consistent with all my shots and my short game," said the 23-year-old Lee6. "That's what I've been focusing on and that's why I feel more confident. Then I focus more on the putting, the green speed."

The Korean community came out in support of Lee6 and she was grateful for their presence as well as the other fans.

"I feel pretty happy that so many people are watching me," she said. "It feels pretty weird sometimes because I won the U.S. Open... I feel pretty good about it."

She mentioned that the ShopRite Classic, a three-day event, allowed her to get more rest and she was appreciative of that. The U.S. Open was played over four days in Charleston, S.C. and it was marked by a lightning strike, storms and intense heat. It was much more comfortable on the Seaview layout. It was a bit windy during Lee6's round but she was aware of that after practicing here.

"I've been balancing myself to be physically and mentally stable," Lee6 said. "I've been working on that. The weather was better than last week's weather."

Phatlum, 29, produced seven birdies and she, too, was successful with her putter. She ended her round with a 12-foot eagle putt.

"I think I put no pressure on myself," Phatlum said of the eagle putt. "It was almost a straight putt. It was relaxed for me and I just made it."

Last week, Phatlum was 16th at the U.S. Open and that she feels is carrying over.

"I feel like I got more confident," she said. "I try to play my game and not put pressure on myself. It makes me more relaxed and I have more good results."

At the Open, Thompson tied for second. She played a steady round on Friday, penciling in seven birdies.

"This is a very gettable golf course," Thompson said. "A lot of birdies out there, I think, because it is playing a bit shorter. The defense on this golf course is basically the wind. If it gets blowing out there, it plays a bit harder. A lot of wedges into the greens so a lot of birdie opportunities."

Marina Alex, a native of Wayne, N.J., struggled and had a double bogey and two bogeys to go along with five birdies. She fired a 1-under 70. Annie Park, last year's champion, posted a 69.

 

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Marauders' memorable journey comes to an end

UNION _ The dirt stain on the right side of Lindsey Walter's uniform stretched from chest to knee, the result of several head-first slides and representative of another all-out Mount Olive effort.

Walter's post-game face expressed sadness then a smile. There were some tears mixed in. Despite what the scoreboard at Kean University displayed at the conclusion of the Group IV title game: Hightstown 9, Mount Olive 4, Walter and her Marauder teammates felt very much like winners.

A six-game winning streak, which commenced five days after a setback to Morris Knolls in the Morris County Tournament final, was a magical journey for Mount Olive and provided it with its first opportunity to vie for a softball group championship.

"It's really been a lot of fun," said Walter, a junior shortstop/pitcher. "Our team has so much energy. We wanted this so badly. I love playing with my teammates. They're great. We don't want to let go. I, all of us, didn't want it to end."

The Marauders were stung by three errors and were left reeling after Hightstown's four-run sixth inning that featured a two-run homer to centerfield by No. 7 batter Abby Bell, a freshman catcher, and a two-out double by winning pitcher Allie Bridgman. In the top of the sixth, Mount Olive had rallied from a four-run deficit by plating three runs, two of them on Alyssa Segnello's triple to right field and trailed, 5-4.

"I was extremely hopeful when we came back in the sixth," said Segnello, a senior right fielder and quad-captain. "We've come back so many times. I thought we'd win it after that."

Bridgman, however, squashed Mount Olive's hopes in the seventh with a groundout, a strikeout and a popup.

"We beat ourselves," Marauders coach Bill Romano said. "What are you going to do? It happens. Too many errors today. That's all. We weren't charging the ball. I think we got a little too caught up (in the enormity of the game). Their home run brought us down a bit but we never gave up. The girls continued cheering and had the pitcher's back.

"I'm proud that we came back. I'm proud of what we've done this season. These kids don't quit. They keep battling. Unfortunately, a win today was not in the cards."

Walter believes the errors may have been committed because "we put so much pressure on ourselves."

Mount Olive (19-8) recorded the game's first run in the top of the third inning. Bella Salafia led off with a double off a 1-1 pitch and moved to third on a groundout. Walter, facing an 0-2 count, poked the ball to left field to drive Salafia in. Prior to that, Romano felt his players were "taking too many pitches."

"I think it was nerves mainly," Segnello said of the Marauders not being more aggressive at the plate at the start. "I tried to loosen everyone up. We finally calmed down. Their pitcher was throwing strikes and we needed to adjust."

Hightstown loaded the bases and put up four runs, two on Morgan Fleisher's double and the others on Bell's sacrifice fly and a miscue, in the lower half of the fourth inning to pull in front, 4-1. Walter took over for Mount Olive starting pitcher Anna Callahan after they were filled. Many times this spring, the Marauders have benefited from having two solid pitchers but, on this particular day, their Mercer County opponent was simply better.

The Marauders had several standout individual performances. Mount Olive's Kaitlin Pettenger had the defensive play of the game, making a diving catch in left-center field for the third out in the bottom of the first inning. Walter went 4 for 4 with two RBIs and swiped two bases. Bri Segnello rapped out two singles.

Mount Olive, of course, was sad that their season come to a halt. Many of the girls have played on travel and Babe Ruth squads together, advancing to the World Series several times.

"I'm so proud of everyone. We've been through so much together," Alyssa Segnello said. "It didn't turn out the way we wanted but we accomplished a lot. This is an amazing team. We've been together so long. The bond is unbreakable."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

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