PISCATAWAY, N.J. - At almost the exact moment that the clock hit zero, the skies opened up, a downpour saturated the field, and lightning forced the entire complex at Rutgers University to be evacuated.
Fortunately for the Moorestown girls' lacrosse team, the Quakers didn't have to hang around for long after a heartbreaking 10-9 loss to Ridgewood on Saturday in the Tournament of Champions final.
The rain, never more than a drizzle during the game, was like a cruel metaphor for the contest that had just occurred. Moorestown held back a flood for nearly two full halves. Ridgewood featured the most potent, high-powered offense in the state - and New Jersey's most decorated girls' lacrosse program simply couldn't hold out long enough.
Moorestown led for most of the game and never trailed until Ridgewood went ahead for good with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left.
"I'm proud of my team," said Quakers senior goalie Bridget Bianco, who ended her high school career with a valiant effort, recording eight saves. "No one expected us to be here. Everyone was doubting us, we were young, and yet we still made it here - and we beat some pretty darn good teams along the way."
This was Ridgewood's second consecutive T of C title. The Maroons were led by Kelci Smesko's four goals and Sally Jentis' three second-half goals. Six girls scored for Moorestown (22-4), including senior Nikki Shapiro, who netted her 100th career goal with 7:53 left in the first half.
Moorestown took six leads in the game, as the teams traded punches the entire way. But Ridgewood (23-1) didn't take its first lead until late.
"It just did not end in our favor," said Moorestown coach Deanna Knobloch, who ends this season with 399 career wins. "I can't say that I'm not hurt or not upset about it. Any loss for us in this program is really tough to take.
"I just told the girls, "This is a learning experience; we're going to learn something from this. What it is? I'm not sure yet."
With 10:31 remaining, junior Stephanie Toy crossed a pass to Nikki McMonagle. McMonagle deposited the ball into a wide-open net, putting Moorestown ahead by 9-7.
It was the Quakers' largest lead. But in the next 10 minutes, Ridgewood exploited what was Moorestown's only two weaknesses in the game: draw control and pace of play.
Ridgewood controlled 12 draws to Moorestown's nine in the game. The Maroons held an 8-3 advantage in the category through one half. Moorestown looked stronger in the face-off circle early in the second half. But after Lauren Beausoleil's goal cut Moorestown's lead to one with 8:33 left, Ridgewood controlled the ensuing draw, which effectively resulted in the game's biggest possession.
The possession took more than two minutes and included three free-position shots, and it ended with Jentis tying the game on a one-on-one look with Bianco with 5:54 left.
The speedy Maroons dictated the pace of play for the rest of the game, eventually resulting in Jentis spinning around a defender and netting the go-ahead goal with 2:44 left.
"Moorestown is a phenomenal, well-balanced team," Smesko said. "[Bianco] is amazing, and we knew we were going to have to play 50 minutes of great lacrosse if we were going to beat them. It was just such an even game . . . In the end, it just came down to our drive to win."
Moorestown jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first four minutes ended the first half ahead by 6-4.
"We came so far this season," Shapiro said. "And I'm really proud of everything that this team accomplished."
Ridgewood 4 6 – 10
Moorestown 6 3 – 9
Goals: R-Kelci Smesko 4, Sally Jentis 3, Jess Miller 2, Lauren Beausoleil; M-Nikki McMonagle 2, Carly Taglienti 2, Lindsay Goldblatt 2, Stephanie Toy, Nikki Shapiro, Haleigh Dalmass.
Saves: R-Isabel Sipple 10; M-Bridget Bianco 8.