By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Mainland Regional field hockey coach Jill Hatz had two goals heading into Friday afternoon’s South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinal matchup with visiting Winslow. No. 1, obviously, was to get the win and advance to the semifinal round against arch rival Ocean City. The second was to get star senior Paige Care to 100 goals, as she needed five heading into the game.
The Mustangs went 1-for-2, but coach Hatz will certainly take it.
Care scored a hat trick before exiting the game with about eight minutes to go after twisting her knee, but by that time she had done enough to ensure a 4-0 victory over the Eagles. Emily Osterman added a goal about a minute before Care was injured, and Winslow didn’t mount any serious threats from that point on.
“She’s been working hard,” Hatz said of Care, “and a lot of the girls — not just her — have started to play some of their best hockey the past few games. We preach to them to start off strong, but you also have to have enough stamina to get into the playoffs and play your best hockey then. Paige has really started to play some of her best hockey, she’s getting back on the board with goals, and that helps us out a lot.”
The win over Winslow pits third-seeded Mainland against defending champion and No. 2 Ocean City, a 5-1 winner over Timber Creek. The teams split during the regular season, and will face off in Ocean City on Tuesday. The other semifinal Tuesday features top-seeded Clearview against No. 4 Absegami.
“We’re definitely going to practice our hardest. You never know what could happen,” said Amanda Dearborn. “We could rise up and beat (Ocean City), like we did before. We hope Paige will be back for our next game because she is a big asset for this team.”
“We’re hoping for the best and putting in the work, and it’s paying off,” added Payton Ortzman. “(Paige) is a big part of this team, especially with the goals. She works really hard, so we wanted to get her to 100 goals. If she was open and could score, we would try to get the ball to her, but we weren’t going to sacrifice (a chance) if she wasn’t open. We’re all one team that’s just trying to win.”
The 11th-seeded Eagles gave Mainland (14-3-3) some problems in the first half, and a pair of goals by Care was all the Mustangs could manage before halftime.
“Really, it’s anyone’s game, it just depends on the heart and effort that we’re putting into it. We did have that, but I think they had the same thing. We had to get back to playing our own game. Sometimes we get into our own heads and we have to stick to our short passing game. We just had to fine-tune a couple of things (at halftime),” said Mikayla Carson.
“We knew they were a low seed, but they had beaten some good teams. So, you don’t know who is going to come out and win. We had to play our hardest and put in our all. If you come out slowly, they could easily take it from us. They were a good team. Maybe we should have gotten more goals, but the goals we got were well earned,” Osterman said. “I didn’t even know (Paige was close to 100 goals), but she’s going to get her goals anyway. I had no idea she was close to 100. I thought she already had it.”
Care scored her third goal of the game, and 98th of her career, with 14:36 to go after the Mustangs were thwarted on four straight corners. Winslow packed in its defense and tried to counterattack when it could. Osterman scored off a corner with 9:22 remaining to push the Mustangs’ lead to 4-0.
“There’s always stuff you need to work on. You never play a perfect game. We called a timeout and said we had to execute on corners, and within a few minutes we had a goal on a corner. These girls are very coachable, they take to the instruction and do the things we ask them to do, and we’re successful,” Hatz said. “There are some games where we try to go out wide and there are six or seven girls out that way, so we say, ‘OK, send it to the middle because that’s where nobody is.’ Today, it seemed like everyone was in the middle, so we sent everybody out wide. We adjust to the other team a little bit, but we try to maintain our style of play.
Hatz said she warned her players not to look past Winslow despite the Eagles’ 2-15-2 record coming into the game.
“This is the playoffs. We don’t count anybody out and the seeds don’t matter,” she said. “It matters who shows up and has the heart, can execute and make things happen.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays