RANDOLPH _ Freshman forward Allie Lutz scored twice to lift Mendham to a 2-0 victory over West Morris on Sunday, Oct. 15 and send the Minutemen to only their second Morris County Tournament final in school history.
The seventh-seeded Minutemen will face top-seeded Morris Knolls, a 1-0 double overtime winner against Parsippany Hills, in the other semifinal. The title game will be a 7 p.m. contest on Saturday, Oct. 21 at Roxbury High School.
Mendham goalkeeper Aubrey Egerter made four saves, including back-to-back stops midway in the second half, for the Minutemen (8-3-3). Mendham has never won the title and made its only other appearance in the title game about 10 years ago. West Morris Central, the third seed, is 7-6-1 and winless in four of its last five games.
"Our team just gets closer and closer every game,'' Lutz said. "We are like a family and I think that helps us playing.''
Mendham has been continuously improving over the course of the year and is a much better squad then when it lost to its sister school 1-0 in overtime on Sept. 20. Mendham's ability to press opposing team's defenders and hinder its ability to develop an attack inevitably gives the Minutemen better scoring opportunities.
"As games have gone on, they have gotten used to it,'' Mendham coach Mark Lahey said. "We have newer kids playing in the midfield. As they are getting more and more accustomed to the speed of this game and the physicality, we are just getting better and better offensively.''
A combination of stellar defense and Lutz quality scoring attempts won the day. Lutz has been a starter since freshman year and has always had the ability to connect. Her first goal came at 12:48 in a breakaway.
"Becky Crowe crossed it diagonally and I slipped my defenders,'' Lutz said. "I was just a few yards outside of the box. The goalie was coming out so I just kicked it righty over her just a little chip over her.''
Her second goal was a picturesque effort. It was a one-touch volley off a cross by Jess Beneducci that sailed into the upper left corner of the net in the 53rd minute to make it a 2-0 game.
"I can't say enough good things about Allie,'' Lahey said. "She has just been unbelievable this whole tournament. That first goal, she was so poised to chip it over the goalie. The second one was just a bomb. I don't know what I would do without her.''
Although it wasn't the team's sole focus, the Minutemen's back line did a tremendous job of limiting the Wolfpack's quality scoring opportunities and always seemed to be on the ball whenever West Morris got into scoring range.
"They are really strong back there,'' Egerter said. "Our wings on the outside are really good at picking it up. It's really strong having four seniors.''
The defense is a senior-laden group with Jess Hall, Becky Crowe, Lia Mund, Taylor LaSorsa rotating in the four-man back line. All four have been in the back the last two years. The only time the Minutemen defense wasn't on top of the ball, the Mendham goalie was ready.
A minute after Lutz's goal made it 2-0, West Morris Central threatened. From about 10 yards out, Casey Lisa launched a shot towards the middle of the goal but Egerter deflected it. She had to quickly get up once again to stop a rebound effort.
"I anticipated where she was shooting,'' Egerter said. "She came from the left so I thought she was going to hit the far post. I made sure that I was ready for that so I could cut down the angle. I was ready for that (second shot), too.''
West Morris did not have any serious opportunities after that and Mendham, which upset second seeded Roxbury 1-0 last week, celebrated its chance to get back to the championship game.
"This is a big deal for our team, especially for the seniors," Lutz said. "We want to make our mark.''