UNION, N.J. — It wasn’t the first time the Eastern girls’ lacrosse team had surprised a crowd of opposing fans.
The Vikings had done that all season.
But when they went into halftime with the lead against New Jersey’s top-ranked team in a state championship game, most who hadn’t seen Eastern play were surprised to say the least.
“People doubted us, but I thought we did awesome today,” said junior goalie Kelli McGroarty, whose Vikings ultimately fell to Ridgewood, 9-4, Saturday in the Group 4 state championship. But Eastern put a scare into a heavily favored opponent.
“I think we’re leaving here knowing that we left our mark,” McGroarty said. “We did what most people said we couldn’t, and we showed what we we’re capable of.”
McGroarty shined throughout, recording 11 saves and frustrating Ridgewood at times.
Three players combined to score four goals for Eastern, which was fitting for a team touted for its parity and depth.
“Going into this year, our goal was to get to this game. We worked hard to get here all season. We had the drive to get back,” said senior Tori Accardo, whose Vikings fell in the South Jersey championship last season. “We just worked hard. We’re a great group of girls. We’re coached really well, and it’s been a great season.”
McGroarty was instrumental in keeping Ridgewood off the scoreboard for most of the first half, while the Vikings made the most of their opportunities.
Accardo’s goal off a free position shot with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first half gave Eastern a 3-2 lead that held until halftime.
“The girls came out to play,” said first-year coach Gretchen Kiep. “Every game this year, we’ve come out with grit and fearlessness, and that’s what counts in the end.”
Eastern kept the game close through much of the second half before Ridgewood opened it up.
Kelsey Barratt scored her second goal of the game to give Eastern a 4-3 lead with 22 minutes left.
Ridgewood (23-1), which moves on to its third Tournament of Champions in four years, found its footing after that and scored the final six goals.
The Maroons were led by Jackie Wolak, who netted two goals to give her 117 points on the season, and Marley Scala, who netted a game-high three goals.
Despite the raw emotion of a season-ending loss, Eastern was quick to find perspective. This was just the second time the Vikings (18-4) had made it to this game.
“It was a great season,” Kiep said. “I think how well our seniors took on the role of bringing in our underclassmen and how the team meshed together, especially toward the end of the season, was what impressed me most. The biggest thing this season is just how the team came together.”
Eastern 3 1 — 4
Ridgewood 2 7 — 9
Goals: E- Jane Traugger, Jenna Casole, Kelsey Barratt 2, Tori Accardo; R- Marley Scala 3, Jackie Wolak 2, Sara Eliinghaus 2, Keely Bennett, Annie McCarthy.