Balliet’s goal puts NW in D-11 final
Northwestern’s Brinley Rex sends the ball upfield during Monday’s District 11 Class 1A semifinal game against Saucon Valley. At right is Panther defender Addison Anthony (9). The Tigers won the contest, 1-0, to advance to the championship game on Wednesday. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
EMMAUS — It only takes one.
That seems to be the rally cry of the Northwestern field hockey team as it heads toward the District 11 Class 1A Class championship game.
The Tigers punched their ticket to the finals with a 1-0 win over Saucon Valley Monday night.
It was a continuation of the recent stretch of close, tough games for Northwestern. The Tigers were coming off a 1-0 win over Palmerton in the district quarterfinals, and had dropped a 3-2 double OT decision to Southern Lehigh in the Colonial League semifinals prior to that.
“It’s playoffs,” said Tiger coach Lissa Opolsky of the close string of games. “You can’t expect anything else in playoffs, because your record, your numbers, nothing else matters in playoffs. When you step on the field it’s just two teams playing their best, and that’s what we’ve had over the past two-plus games.
“Our girls have seen a mental challenge as much as the physical and hockey challenge, and that makes us better every game we step into. We know that no matter what, whether we’re down a goal or up a goal, it only takes one.”
The one for Northwestern Lehigh came with 5:45 left in the first half, when Tess Ledeboer was able to get loose on a breakaway and put a shot on goal that Brynn Balliet helped redirect slightly past goalkeeper Grace Albano for what would turn out to be the game’s only goal.
“Tess had an amazing breakaway, and then she crossed it and I thought it was going in, but then I saw that I had the opportunity to tip it, and I got a stick on it and it went in. It was a great setup by her,” said Balliet of her scoring opportunity.
“Tess, Brynn and Brooke [Page] and Brinley [Rex] have all been working really hard to change their games and make some runs that they don’t normally make,” said Opolsky. “Tess was making one of those runs at that time and Brynn happened to be in the right place at the right time — it only takes one.”
Both teams played strong defensively, but in the second half, Saucon Valley seemed to turn around Northwestern’s first-half control and put more pressure on the Tigers. Much of the game was played in Northwestern’s defensive zone, and while it wasn’t flawless, the defense was up to the task, as was goalie Maxine Hoffman.
“They were trying to capitalize on some of our defensive mistakes, and we weren’t completely clean on the defensive end, especially on some of their corners,” said Opolsky. “We would have hoped to control the ball a little better in the second half, but we’ll work on that moving forward.”
Balliet believes that the tough string of games will help fuel the team through the rest of its run, and is making them a better team overall.
Even the loss to Solehi couldn’t keep the Tigers down as they used it as a launch pad to give them added incentive in districts.
“We knew we were close and we weren’t done yet and we couldn’t let that affect how we played, and that we just had to come back stronger and that’s what we did,” said Balliet. “Having good, tough games is good for us. It’s teaching us to play tougher and be ready, and we’re really excited for the championship and to see what we can do.”
ANOTHER STEP ... Last season was the first time in a long time that Northwestern reached the District 11 championship game. Now, they’ve at least repeated what they accomplished last season, and have also guaranteed themselves a spot in the PIAA tournament, which begins next week. That’s not good enough for Northwestern though, as it looks to go one step beyond last year’s finish. “I think we’re better prepared this year, and we can go pretty far,” said Balliet.
UP NEXT ... The Tigers return to the finals for the second straight season. They will face top-seeded Moravian Academy after the Lions downed Lehighton in the other semifinal matchup. The finals will be played at the Zephyr Sports Complex at Whitehall High School on Wednesday at 5:15 p.m.