BRANDYWINE HUNDRED – It took eight years, but the St. Georges field hockey team can finally add a new banner to the gymnasium wall: Blue Hen Conference Flight B champions. The Hawks earned the title with a tight 1-0 victory over Brandywine on Monday afternoon, much to the delight of their coach, Jessica Bloch.
“I was expecting (Brandywine) to put up a fight, and I was hoping our girls would put up a fight. They recognized what exactly was at stake here in terms of winning the Flight B Conference,” said Bloch, who has coached the team since its inception eight years ago. “I expected a fight, and we were prepared for it. Both ways. Brandywine played quite well.”
Alyssa McGinnis provided the only scoring on the unseasonably warm afternoon, beating Bulldogs goalie Keri Edwards at the 12:21 mark of the second half. The drive included a St. Georges player keeping control of her dribble by chipping the ball over the stick of a Brandywine defender. Mackenzie Porter sent a pass along the end line into the circle in front of Thomas, and McGinnis found it in a thicket of players and tapped it into the cage.
“We just worked it down the field, and there was a cross. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and there was an open goal and I hit it in,” McGinnis said.
Both teams entered Monday's game with a 3-0 record in Flight B. With the win, St. Georges took the Flight B crown for the first time.
“It's something that we have wanted because we have been very close over the past, I guess, five years,” Bloch said. “We've been within one goal, a single match away from getting this. We kind of felt that pressure today, which was good. That pressure turned in our favor and allowed us to be successful.”
The win does not come with an automatic bid to the state tournament. According to state guidelines, champions of qualifying conferences must have a record of at least .500 – St. Georges needs one win in its last five to get there – and must be in the top 50 percent of all teams. Even if they do not qualify for an automatic bid, the Hawks are a good bet to be playing in the tournament.
Quality scoring opportunities were scarce in this one, as the teams spent much of the day outside the scoring circles. Brandywine had the first real chance in the first half, but a shot about 10 minutes in was deflected wide of the net. St. Georges came within six inches of putting one in the cage midway through the first when the ball eluded Thomas, but Bulldogs defender Kelsey Looney stepped in to swat a shot away just before the ball crossed the line.
The Hawks applied the offensive pressure as the second half opened, and a Brandywine penalty put St. Georges a player up for a minute, although nothing would come of the advantage. The teams traded possessions unsuccessfully until McGinnis' tally. Thomas kept the score 1-0 with a nice kick save with 3:45 to go.
Bloch said the Hawks can score, but she and her coaches teach a defense-first strategy.
“Our system that we play and the way that the girls communicate and support each other and what we have taught them maybe allows for a more defensive game. I think we just cover the ball and cover spaces. We have a very smart team, and they can cover spaces very well,” she said.
No matter how the game unfolded, McGinnis said the idea was to come out and get the win.
“We knew this was the biggest game of our conference, and we'd never won conference before, so we all just came out here working hard, trying our hardest to win,” she said.
St. Georges (7-3) finished with eight shots to Brandywine's two, and each team earned four penalty corners. Hawks goalie Paris Prevost earned the shutout with two saves, while Thomas had five. The Hawks return home on Wednesday to meet Dover at 3:45 p.m., while Brandywine (7-4-1) is on the road Friday at 3:45 p.m. at Newark.