Richland, NJ - Last season, the Holmdel Hornets soccer team accomplished something no other Holmdel girls soccer ever had by capturing the NJSIAA Group II Championship game with a 1-0 win over Ramapo. After their 2-1 win Tuesday night over Point Pleasant Borough, the Hornets are headed back to the finals on Saturday and will once again face Ramapo in hopes of repeating as State Champs.

Even though the game was not the prettiest soccer played this season, the Hornets did just enough as a team to get themselves back to Kean University and a run at back-to-back titles. One would have thought the game played Tuesday night on the football field at St. Augustine Prep School was a football game at times rather than a futbol contest. From the slide tackles, late hits, roughing the kickers, the only thing missing was a horse collar or two. Both teams found themselves caught in a chippy affair for most of the game but when things did settle down, each team showed why they were in the Group II semifinals.

Holmdel got on the board midway through the first half after Gabby Bair took a deep run into the right corner of the field and had the ball knocked out of bounds by the Panthers defender. Bair quickly took the thrown-in and hit a wide open Hannah Lee, who took two touches, turned and buried her 21st goal of the season in the upper corner for a 1-0 lead.

Holmdel's Hannah Lee hauls in the throw-in from Gabby Bair (photo by Eric Braun)

"At the beginning of the season everyone expected us to be the top team because we won states last season so we put added pressure on our selves early," Lee said. "After we settled down as a team and relied on each other rather then outside sources, we began to play soccer again. The good thing about this team is that we all wanted to obtain the same goal and pushed each other everyday to reach it, and after tonight we are one step closer."

With just under four minutes to play in the first half, Point Boro's defensive leader and junior goaltender Amye Zalesky injured her knee when she came out and challenged Bair for a loose ball outside the box. Bair and one sideline official during the injury timeout both commented that they did not collide and and were not sure what happened to Zalensky. The heart and soul of the Panthers defense all season had to be assisted off the field and was replaced by freshman Riley Sexton.

After the teams took a much needed halftime break, the Hornets turned up the offensive pressure and just six minutes into the second half, Hannah Lee took a deep run down the left flank and fed a pass across the top of the box to an open Bair, who took her time and settled the pass before burying her 18th goal of the season past a diving Sexton for a 2-0 lead.

Gabby Bair finds some shooting room against Point Boro. (Photo by Eric Braun)

"We knew tonight was going to be a tough and physical game," Bair said. "You have two teams from the Shore Conference fighting for the same goal, it feels good to get the win and move onto Saturday. Boro is a really good team, we needed to work really hard to earn the win tonight, but we are not done yet we still have one more game to go."

"We expected this to be a physical game," Holmdel coach Jennifer Conroy said. "At times it got out of control, but credit to our girls that they were able to stay the course and work through it and find a way to get the win."

Point Boro, who has been no stranger to late-game magic in the NJSIAA tournament this season was once again looking for that magic touch. Devon Wondolowski scored her 29th goal of the season with just under nine minutes to play. The Panthers players and fans picked up momentum for the next nine minutes but were unable to break through the Hornets defense of Casey Matthijs, Maggie Matthijs, Kat Rebele, and keeper Mattie Milkowski for the equalizer.

"Our defense is peaking at the right moment," Conroy said. "They did a great job tonight and a lot of credit goes to Mattie. She was a backup the last two years. She really stepped up and showed her leadership."

Next up for Holmdel (16-6-1) is a championship game rematch from a year ago on Saturday for the NJSIAA Group II Championship against Ramapo (19-3-2) at Kean University at 12:30 p.m.

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