LINWOOD – Mainland Regional High School junior lacrosse player Gabby Cohen might want to consider a career in journalism. Cohen said she thought of a headline before the Mustangs completed the story of their South Jersey Group III quarterfinal game against Cherry Hill West Thursday.
“We were thinking, ‘Mainland beats Cherry Hill West, despite being a man down 12 minutes into the game,’” Cohen said. “It’s crazy.”
That "crazy" thought helped spark a remarkable, come-from-behind 16-14 win that propelled the Mustangs into the semifinal round for the first time in program history.
Mainland overcame plenty of obstacles. The Mustangs were shorthanded for much of the game after picking up their fourth yellow card with 12 minutes left in the first half. They were down by two goals with seven minutes left in the game. There was even a scoring dispute that took the apparent tying goal off the scoreboard with six minutes to play.
“We played something like 37 minutes with 11 players,” said Mainland coach Bernadette Daley. “I can’t be more proud. It’s unbelievable. They’re just a super-smart, super-motivated bunch, and they wanted it.”
Freshman Robin Spector scored seven goals for the fourth-seeded Mustangs, who had earned a first-round tournament bye for the first time in program history. Megan Bozzi scored four goals, including the go-ahead tally off a nice feed from Molly O’Shea with 2:40 left in the game, and Cohen added three goals for the Mustangs.
Ashley Lechliter scored five goals to lead fifth-seeded Cherry Hill West.
“It was just wanting to win, wanting to advance and keep it going,” Bozzi said of the Mainland comeback.
O’Shea had two goals and four assists for the Mustangs, who advanced to play powerhouse and top seed Moorestown, the same team that defeated them soundly in the second round a year ago.
“I think we’re going to go in there strong after this win,” Spector said.
For awhile, Thursday’s back and forth game looked like it would be settled by whoever had the last possession. The game was tied at nine at halftime, and the teams traded a pair of goals early in the second half.
Spector tied the game at 11 on a nice spin move for a goal with 14:08 left, but the Mustangs fell behind 14-12 with just under seven minutes to play. Cohen’s goal with 6:01 left tied the game at 14 according to the scoreboard, but after a long delay the score was corrected to reflect that the Mustangs were still down by a goal.
“I think a lot of the motivation came from when we had the dispute about the goals,” Cohen said. “We just put that aside and said, ‘Let’s play lacrosse. We’ll make it 14-14 anyway.’”
They did just that. Spector scored her seventh goal of the game off a pass from Bozzi with 3:35 left to tie it up. Then, Bozzi cut to the front of the net and took a perfect pass from O’Shea to give the Mustangs their first lead since early in the second half.
“Everything was really being called tight,” said Bozzi, a junior. “Being a man down, there was one girl that was on me the whole time. When you’re face-guarded, it’s easier to get in front of them because they’re right in front of you, so that’s what I try to work on, getting that first step on them, and Molly always hits me at the perfect spot to whip it in.”
Cohen’s goal on a pass from Spector gave the Mustangs a two-goal cushion with 1:23 left, and the Mainland defense stiffened in front of goaltender Ciara Reeves.
Daley also pointed to a great defensive play by Allison Hoelker, who intercepted a Cherry Hill West pass with the Mustangs trailing by a goal late in the game. “Totally clean,” Daley said. “She took it up to midfield and we scored off of it. To me that was a turning point of the game. Totally unselfish play at the defensive end, at the offensive end. They did it all. They really dug in deep. They’re fighters. It was a great game to coach.
“This is the first year we’ve had a bye, and the second year in a row we’ve had a home playoff game,” Daley said. “It says a lot about our feeder programs. It says a lot about the time these kids are putting into their travel programs. It says a lot about what they’re doing here for us. It’s all about the kids.”