By Brian Deakyne
TOMS RIVER — Red Bank Catholic didn’t have to be reminded. They knew.
Facing the defending Shore Conference Tournament champions, the lady Caseys knew it would take everything in their power to top Shore Regional in the Shore Conference Tournament semi-finals Thursday night.
Second-seeded Red Bank Catholic did just that, using an impressive defense over the final 25 minutes to sit on a lead, and land themselves a spot back in the finals for the first time since 2006.
“It was so awesome. Before the game, everyone had butterflies, it was that nerve wrecking,” senior Kaitlyn Cunningham said. “Once we got the first run of goals, we knew we had it in ourselves to get the win.”
Red Bank Catholic jumped out to a 7-2 lead, and was able to hold that through the second half, topping third-seeded Shore, 10-8.
“I thought our defense was outstanding tonight,” Red Bank Catholic head coach Lisa Caprioni said.
The Blue Devils made a run in the second half, cutting a five goal deficit down to one on two separate occasions, but RBC stood tall, holding off a potent Shore Regional attack.
Alyson Chwatek scored two quick goals to open the scoring in the second half for Shore and later assisted Molly Arnette on a goal on crease, pushing RBC’s lead down to 7-5.
The lady Caseys’ were able to answer, getting goals from Grace Fallon, and Fallon found Nicole Dunphy on a fast-break goal, extending Red Bank Catholic’s lead to 9-6 with just under 17 minutes left in the game.
Shore Regional made one last attempt to challenge RBC late, getting an 8-meter goal from Chelsey Hendersen to cut the lead to 9-8, but the lady Casey’s answered when sophomore Amanda Casten buried home a goal on crease with six minutes left, putting RBC up, 10-8.
“I was concerned in the second half because Shore was running their cuts better. They came back after us and we knew that would happen, they are the defending Shore Conference Tournament champions,” Joseph Nappo, the defensive coach for Red Bank Catholic, said. “For the most part, I thought we were incredible on defense. It was tough.”
After falling down 1-0 early, Red Bank Catholic’s offense came alive, out-scoring the Blue Devils 6-2 in the first half, including a four-goal spurt to end the half.
Fallon scored her first goal of the night with 10:10 remaining in the first half, dodging to the left alley and whipping a shot into the net. Five minutes later, Catherine Luick added a goal, running through the slot and firing the ball into the net, putting RBC up, 4-2.
Cunningham added her second goal of the half later on, faking a dodge to the left, moving to the right and scoring, and junior Victoria Brown added a fast-break goal at the end of the half, putting the lady Caseys’ up, 6-2.
“Our confidence really built up then, and at that point, I knew we weren’t going to let them come back,” Cunningham said. “They did come back, because Shore is a really good team and never gives up. We held our own and came out with the win.”
Cunningham put the Caseys on the board in the first half, finishing off a possession that went well over three minutes, and tied the teams at one after Jordan Hayes put Shore Regional on the board in the opening minutes of the game.
Dunphy put home a goal to put RBC up 2-1, but the Blue Devils answered with a goal from Hendersen to tie the teams at two.
Cunningham added her team-high third goal of the night to open the second half, scoring an 8-meter 1:06 into the frame to put the lady Caseys at their biggest lead, 7-2.
“What works best is when I don’t think about it and let it come naturally,” Cunningham said. “The last 8-meter I got hit down and got really mad and I wanted to stick it to them and get it in.”
Red Bank Catholic will face fourth-seeded Manasquan in the Shore Conference Tournament finals on Friday at 4 pm at Monmouth University. Manasquan upended Rumson-Fair Haven in the semi-finals, 10-7.