POTTSTOWN >> Leave-it-all-on-the-field rivalries were made by games like this.
Hill School and Lawrenceville (N.J.) have basically owned field hockey in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League since its inception in 1998. Coming into Saturday’s under-the-lights league championship showdown at Hill’s Briggs S. Cunningham ’26, ’50 Field, the schools had combined to win 14 of the 18 MAPL crowns.
Lawrenceville had won seven outright MAPL titles, including the last two, having beaten Hill for the championship last year 4-2. Hill had won six outright, most recently in 2013. With Lawrenceville leading the series 9-8-1, the teams had given themselves a tough act to follow in terms of year-to-year drama.
But, oh yeah, they followed the two decades of dramatic storylines with an outright classic Saturday, and Hill made it that way by roaring back from a 2-0 halftime deficit. And it was right out of central casting — perfect — that one of the two seniors who were on the varsity as freshmen the last time Hill wrested the crown from Lawrenceville, in 2013, scored the game-winner.
Co-captain Erin Kelly, taking an inbound pass from Bree Gorman on a penalty corner, deposited a rocket shot from 12 yards out on the right angle for a 3-2 win with 3:57 left in the game. She leaped for joy with several teammates but it wasn’t quite time to celebrate. Kelly also helped break up a final Lawrenceville attack in the final minute, and a big crowd and boisterous student section flooded the field to celebrate one satisfying victory as Hill knotted the series 9-9-1 and tied Lawrenceville with a seventh outright MAPL title.
“I don’t think I’ve jumped any higher in my life — I couldn’t be happier,” Kelly beamed. “I think our team just knows how strong we are, and no matter what hole we can get ourselves into, we know with the support of each other we’re able to fight our way back. I think we show ourselves best through adversity, and that’s exactly what we did here tonight.”
Hill (5-0 MAPL, 11-3-1 overall) fell behind 2-0 inside the first 10 minutes due to two Lawrenceville (4-1 MAPL, 15-5 overall) breakaways.
“They’re really fast, and if you let them sneak behind you, it’s game over sometimes,” Hill School coach Julie deLaurentis said. “But we stayed composed and never gave up, and that’s why we won this game.”
Hill actually controlled the game throughout. It seemed odd Hill trailed at halftime because they dominated the ball, continually drawing corners and getting scoring opportunities. In all in the first half they had eight shots on goal to Lawrenceville’s three.
“We knew if we kept pounding the door was going to open and were going to put the ball in the net,” deLaurentis said.
“In our halftime huddle, we could have easily hung our heads and said we gave it our best, but that’s not the nature of our team,” said Alexis Grippo, the other senior co-captain who as a freshman was on the ’13 MAPL title team. “If we kept getting those opportunities and corners, we were knocking on the door and it was about time we were going to put them in.”
Hill came out even harder offensively in the second half and their defense and midfield bottled up Lawrenceville, virtually never letting the visitors breathe. Senior forward Sarah Esserman put Hill on the board on an assist from senior Lexi Davidson with 28:11 to go in the second half. Four more unsuccessful penalty corners followed before Grippo tied it 2-2 on a penalty shot with 14:56 left.
Lawrenceville, which had allowed just one goal in its previous 12 games, was back on its heels. Hill kept the pressure on the Lawrenceville defense and finally took the lead after virtually setting up camp in Lawrenceville’s end. After two more penalty corners, Kelly delivered.
“As soon as the ball was inserted, I told myself before I shot it, ‘This is ours, this is going in,’ I don’t care if it was the 18th corner, it was going in. I could feel it,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t be prouder to be part of a team that doesn’t stop at anything, doesn’t give up. We have very strong chemistry.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better Saturday night, and I get to be with my best friends — that makes it even better,” Davidson smiled.