No. 3-seeded West Deptford and top-seeded Haddonfield had traded blow after blow for 28 minutes and more than a half-dozen corners, with neither team able to crack a pair of concrete defenses.
It all changed in an instant.
The momentum had seemed to shift West Deptford's way, as the Eagles took a pair of corners after several scoring chance, when the ball popped loose and Haddonfield chased it through midfield and turned it into a breakaway.
The Bulldawgs' Tenaya Clark took it up the right side and crossed a pass in that teammate Maddie Betley tipped behind West Deptford's Antonina Mascali.
And there was Cat Thomas.
The diminutive winger found a spot of daylight around Eagles keeper Dahlia VanDorick, fired it home with a minute left in the first half and gave Haddonfield a 1-0 lead it would never relinquish, as the Bulldawgs took home their second straight South Jersey, Group 2 field hockey title.
For West Deptford, it was both their third loss this season to the Bulldawgs and second time in a row Haddonfield denied the Eagles a championship, and the frustration and emotion were written in large strokes across players' faces as they left the field.
“We did everything we could...it just wasn't enough for today,” said Deanna Szymborski, who was in tears after the final whistle sounded.
West Deptford head coach Linda Decker had nothing but praise for her team following the loss, saying they fought the good fight against a powerful opponent.
“I think there were times we dominated, I think there were times they dominated,” Decker said. “Do I think they were the were the better team today? No. Do I think they won? Yes.”
The win was Haddonfield's third one-goal victory over West Deptford this season, and Haddonfield head coach Lindsay Kocher said she didn't think a single goal was going to do it–or be the difference the third time.
“Their goalie did a great job, their defense did a great job–it's always going to be a good battle,” she said. “Both teams are going to leave everything on the field.”
Szymborski said keeper Dahlia VanDorick was key in keeping the Eagles in the game; she stopped 10 shots on the afternoon and repelled a furious onslaught from Haddonfield early on.
“She's an animal back there–she would do anything to keep the ball out,” Szymborski said. “It has to go past 11 people to get to Dahlia. It's not the goalie's fault, it's the team's.”
Haddonfield never let up the pressure either on offense or defense. The Bulldawgs attacked on both sides of the ball, stymieing the Eagles every time they tried to send a ball through midfield, clamping down especially on West Deptford's Brooke Brown, who had become a threat to break loose over the top over the past several games.
The loss puts the Eagles looking to next season, where they'll only lose a pair of players–Szymborski and Erica Durham, both defenders.