All athletes dream of winning the game in the final seconds.After a thrilling defensive battle, sophomore forward Maria Grady did just that to win the Lions’ fourth New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title in five years, as they edged the Ospreys of Richard Stockton College 7-6 in penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie through regulation and two overtime periods.
“We are very excited to have won the NJAC again,” senior goalkeeper Jessica Clarke said. “We came up short last year and we made sure not to forget that. Our coaching staff has guided us in the right direction to get back to the championship.”
Even those who had yet to taste NJAC championship glory know what it means to a program like the College.
“This is my first time winning the NJAC tournament and it is such an amazing feeling,” Grady said. It’s what we as a team have worked for this season. We worked hard and didn’t give up. That is what this program is about.”
After the second overtime period concluded at chilly Lion’s Stadium Friday night, the game shifted to the penalty kick format. In each of their six attempts, both teams converted, keeping things at a dead heat.
It would be the seventh round that decided the championship, as senior goalkeeper Jess Clarke stopped Stockton’s rookie midfielder Dailey Todd to give the Lions a chance to ice it.
Grady would end up the hero, as she executed her penalty kick to clinch the victory and the conference title. The celebration ensued.
“Our (penalty kick) shooters, and Maria, did a great job during the shootout,” Clarke said. “We would have liked to have won the game in regulation, but we were just unfortunate to not have put one in the net (in regulation).”
Grady feels as if she was just in the right place at the right time.
“I don’t feel as if I was the one who ended the game in any way. I was just the next one who happened to shoot,” Grady said. “It could have been anyone. I was not too nervous, more excited because Jess saved the previous and all I had to do was pass the ball into the net.”
By virtue of their win, the Lions earn an NJAC automatic bid to the 2009 NCAA Division III Tournament. On the flipside, the Ospreys will hope their 14-6-2 overall record will land them an at-large bid into the tournament.
But this automatic bid did not come easy. Despite a few scoring opportunities near the end of regulation, freshman Osprey goalkeeper Maria Dorris made a pair of incredible acrobatic saves to keep the game knotted up at zero.
The rookie goalkeeper had quite the busy evening, making 12 saves to record her sixth shutout of the season. She showed much fortitude in going up against the vaunted Lions’ offense and keeping things even with Clarke, who had to save just two shots for her 12th shutout of the season.
Dorris “did well clearly if we had that many shots and could not finish,” Grady said. “She was very athletic, and there were many shots we had that I was shocked didn’t make it past her.”
The Lions had a distinct shots-on-goal advantage (36-3) as well, but were unable to convert any of those shots. They also had all of the nine shots in the two extra sessions.
“To have dominated a game like that and to not come out on top would have been devastating,” Grady said.
Despite their dominance on offense without scoring a goal, the Lions managed to pull out the victory, and advance one step closer to their ultimate goal.
After the thrilling win, the Lions improved their record to 16-2-1 on the year, and will wait for the tournaments brackets to be announced.
“We feel that if we play to the best of abilities, our chances in the tournament are very good,” Clarke said. “We are all looking forward to it.”
If the Lions keep things up on defense and convert on their enormous shot totals, there is no limit to how far they can go. As Coach Russo has preached, execution is the key.