MADISON _ Hanover Park's Samantha Cicerone is fearless in pressure situations.
Cicerone, the fifth - and last - player to take a penalty kick for the Hornets in the North Jersey Section 2, Group II soccer final against Madison, didn't stress at all prior to her attempt. Her head was clear and she was focused. That's because Cicerone has had opportunities to make a difference at crunch time before.
"I'm good with it. It's OK," she said, referring to her ability to come through when needed most. "I blocked everything out. I did what I do in practice. I'm used to it."
That type of demeanor was precisely what was needed under these circumstances. Cicerone, a senior, stepped up and sent the ball into the right side of the net, enabling Hanover Park to secure a 4-3 win and their third sectional championship in four years on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Cicerone is accustomed to coming up clutch. A little over nine months ago, she had the game-winning basket, a buzzer beater, when the Hornets edged sixth-seeded Morristown, 40-38, in overtime in opening-round Morris County Basketball Tournament action. Cicerone had a double-double (10 points,10 rebounds) in the upset.
Sienna Petro, Courtney Irwin and Sadie O'Donnell also converted in the PKs prior to Cicerone.
"This was as intense as it gets," Cicerone said. "We've done it in practice. We've done PKs for the last two weeks every day so we were prepared for them. I trust my teammates and they trust me."
The fact that she booted the ball with her left foot, too, may have had a little to do with the ball eluding the Dodgers' goalie.
"It throws goalies off on PKs," she explained. "It's a hard angle. It helps in situations like this."
There are 10 other seniors on the Hanover Park squad, including Petro, the center midfielder. She went to the right side as well, putting the Hornets up 1-0 in the PK session, right after goalie Gia D'alessio used her left hand to bat away Madison's first attempt.
"This feels so good," said Petro, who will play at the College of Charleston next fall. "We worked so hard to get here. We already lost 2-0 to Madison this season and now we got it back. We deserved to win the first game. We had a lot of possession but couldn't finish."
Two years ago, many of the same players went up against Caldwell in a sectional quarterfinal and the game went to PKs. The Hornets emerged with the victory despite having a sophomore-laden team.
"The pressure sits on you more as you get older," Hanover Park coach Erin Shane Fulton said. "As sophomores, the girls were doe-eyed and went in blind. Today, their experience pushed them. They grew up playing together."
Unity was evident all over the field as the Hornets pushed themselves to contend with an exceptional Madison squad.
Defenders Maddie Mochnal and Ryan O'Leary stood out for the winners, working in tandem on the back line. Goalie Gia D'Alessio came up with 10 saves.
"Maddie and Ryan helped keep the ball out of the net," Fulton said. "Madison had some great opportunities to score. Gia was very good in goal."
The Dodgers' PKs were registered by Ellison Errington, Avery Visich and Gabby Mariani.
"We know each other very well," Madison coach Marc Dovico said. "Our goalie (Riley Holland) made some greaat saves, some of the best I've seen. You just hope to squeeze by in a game like this."
Avery Visich, Kate Reigle, Ashley Driscoll and Maria Waddington - the Dodgers' back four - turned in another solid effort.
"We attacked well and generated some offense," Dovico said. "It was a 12-round fight that went to a decision and it went to PKs. I hate to see it end like this. We were just a little short in the sectional final."
Cicerone noted that Hanover Park claimed the sectional title and went on to the state final as sophomores.
"To do this a second time... It's great," she said. "We really wanted that feeling again. We were hungry for it."