ROBBINSVILLE - For the first six minutes, it looked as if the Cherokee girls' lacrosse team would match high-scoring Ridgewood goal for goal.
But once the Maroons found their flow, they attacked with a vengeance en route to a 21-8 victory over the Chiefs on Thursday in the NJSIAA state Group 4 championship game at Robbinsville High.
"I think our problem today was being mentally tough and coming out confident and knowing we are a team as skilled if not more skilled than they were," Cherokee coach Kate Maloney said. "The downfall was not coming out with the confidence we've had all season."
Cherokee (20-3), which had won 14 straight since losing to Washington Township on April 16, showed that confidence early. After Ridgewood (20-1) took a quick 2-0 lead, the Chiefs bounced back with goals by Katelyn Haverstick and Michelle Gonzales to tie it.
The Maroons responded quickly, scoring seven of the next eight goals over the next seven minutes, to open a 9-3 advantage.
"We started out being able to contain their cuts in the middle, and our attack was able to take care of the ball offensively," said Maloney, who had her team in the finals for the second time in three years.
"Then they just came back and kept adding to the scoreboard, and we weren't taking care of the ball."
Goals by Lauren Carpovich and Gonzales brought Cherokee to within 9-5 with 8:14 remaining in the first half, but that was the closest the Chiefs got.
"Ridgewood was an extremely talented team with a lot of speed and a very balanced attack," Maloney said. "We haven't seen a lot of that this season, so I think that could have been intimidating."
Oddly, Moorestown might have played a part in the Chiefs' loss.
The Quakers gave Ridgewood its only defeat this year when they won a one-goal decision in the second game of the season.
"We were so close, and the girls were like 'They're people too,' " Maroons coach Karla Mixon said. "There's this awe about Moorestown and rightly so. But playing them this year and coming so close, we learned a lot from that game, things we should have done that we implemented in this game."
Despite the loss, Maloney could not have happier with her team, which loses four talented seniors in goalie Lindsay Barry and the high-scoring trio of Brittani Keys, Haverstick, and Kelsey Overbeck.
"We've had a great season," the coach said.
Cherokee 7 1 – 8
Ridgewood 13 8 – 21
Goals: C-Katelyn Haverstick 2, Melissa Arthur 3, Michelle Gonzales 2, Lauren Carpovich; R-Kelci Smesko 6, Sam Giordano 5, Sally Jentis 4, Sam Cermack 2, Jess Miller, Paige Pearson 2, Kaitlin Comcilio.