MOUNTAIN LAKES _ The girls on the Chatham lacrosse team were smart enough to know that Mountain Lakes, despite being 0-5, wouldn't play like a winless team.
As expected, the Lakers gave the Cougars all they could handle but Chatham rallied late to earn a narrow victory.
Emily DeKeyzer scored four goals and Zoe Kraus scored twice to lift Chatham to an 8-7 win over Mountain Lakes on Thursday, April 13.
Catherine McNiff scored the gamewinner on a free position in the final minutes to spark the Cougars. Abby Morgan also connected for Chatham, which improved to 5-2. Haley Tietjen scored four times for Mountain Lakes (0-6). The Lakers built a 6-2 advantage at the half but saw their lead slowly slip away as the Cougars started winning draws and tightening up their defense.
"We didn't take them lightly," McNiff said. "They are a huge county rival. We knew it was going to be a good game. 0-5 doesn't do them justice. We weren't playing too great in the first half and we flipped the switch.''
When McNiff started winning draws, the Cougars were able to build a tempo. Kraus scored off a pass from DeKeyser at the eight-minute mark and tied the game, 7-7.
"I wouldn't say that were a second-half team,'' defender Belle Marshall said. "There have been instances where we started off slower than we would like but we always end up turning it around. We all get energized and it all starts from the bench and it leads to the field and we feed off each other's energy.''
McNiff gave the Cougars the lead in the final goal of the game. Her free position opportunities were stopped twice in a row on shooting space calls. When she finally found an opening her righty shot landed hip high in the right side of the net with 5:11 remaining in the game.
"I was fired up,'' McNiff said. "The whole team was playing so well. I just needed to do my job and put it in the back of the net.''
The Cougars were sluggish from the start and the Lakers took advantage of it. Tietjen scored Mountain Lakes' first four goals. By the time Erin O'Neil connected off a Sarah Monteleone pass with 35 seconds left in the half, Mountain Lakes was off to a 6-2 lead and Chatham needed to talk.
"Momentum is a big thing,'' McNiff said. "We were coming off a rough first half. Coach pulled us aside and told us we need to get it together. Every draw is ours. Last year and in the past, we lost to Mountain Lakes by one and there has been some tough losses. We were really, really fired up in the second half.
Winning some draws and gaining possessions helped. As the game progressed, McNiff was able to solve the problems that Lakers' Lauren Sammarro and Holly Smith posed on the draw.
"They tried pushing, pulling. They tried a couple of different ways but I usually don't do the same draw every time,'' McNiff said. "There are always small tweaks and adjustments I make. I was happy when I recognize who is on the circle and where and when I can get it to someone or if I can get it to myself.''
In the back, Marshall and her teammates Michelle Connolly, Tesa Luzi, Colleen Graham or Julia Dorica did a better job in limiting the Mountain Lakes' offense of scoring opportunities.
"In the first half the defense was standing up a lot,'' Marshall said. "There wasn't a lot of talk. Something was a little off. In the second half, everyone was low, getting in front of the cutters and staying into space on the 1 v 1 drives.
"We knew going in that they had a couple of players that really liked to take it. We made sure that we were low and talking and sending the slide early. It all worked out.''
Chatham rallied with four consecutive goals to start the second half. DeKeyzer scored two of those goals. A brilliant transition goal by DeKeyzer, initiated by a stick save by keeper Kat Friday, made it a 6-6 game with 12:04 remaining.
"Emily's drive was working and we just told her to keep on doing it,'' McNiff said. "She was really fired up. She is someone who definitely wants the ball in her stick. She could shoot and score and that was really awesome. Her fire and intensity helped fire and motivate everyone else.''
The Lakers jumped back ahead on a score by sophomore Sophia Holt off a Monteleone feed to make it 7-6 at 8:57. Less than a minute later, Chatham tied it when Kraus connected off a DeKeyzer feed at the eight-minute mark to set the stage for the gamewinner.
The best chance for Mountain Lakes in the final minutes came with 2:37 left but a Lakers player left too soon on a free position and that turned the ball over. Chatham did not relinquish possession after that.
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