IHA wins its third straight section title

Caitlin Forshay exploited the space in the Pingry defense and reulted in a 5-1 win over Pingry and a third straight Non-Public North A state sectional title.

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP – When Immaculate Heart Academy scored late in the first half to grab a lead over Pingry in the Non-Public North B championship game it looked like that the Blue Eagles were well on their way to another title.

A deeper look at the game showed otherwise. Pingry dominated play for over 10 minutes before the lone first-half goal and nearly scored the tying goal three minutes into the second half. Fortunately for the Blue Eagles, they relied on their experience and poise to carry them through.

Once they were able to unlock the mystery of the Pingry alignment, the floodgates opened and it was business as usual.

Caitlin Forshay was able to find soft spots in the attacking third and exploited them time and again throughout the second half. She used one of those opportunities to score and make it a two-goal lead. Two minutes later, Alexandra Barry’s blast off a corner kick put on top-seeded IHA on cruise control the rest of the way to secure a third straight Non-Public North A section title with a 5-1 triumph over No. 3 seed Pingry on Tuesday afternoon at Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township.

“We came in with a gameplan of keeping possession and moving the ball quickly,” said Forshay. “We needed to take more chances in the second half, and we finished those chances when we got them. This is something special that we have here with this team and we’re very excited to play in a state final this weekend.”

Lindsay Probst had a goal and two assists for IHA.

The Blue Eagles controlled possession through the midfield over the first twenty minutes. Their struggles came from 25 yards and in where they struggled to connect passes and get off quality shots on net. Pingry’s freshman-dominated squad (47 of 62 goals on the season were scored by freshmen) finally settled in and put IHA on its heels. No player more than the Big Blue’s leading scorer, Maya Nuwayhid. The team’s leading scorer had two huge scoring chances but was denied each time by IHA senior goalie Noelle Haskell. She was aggressive coming off of her line when the two collided on a dangerous through ball. Then on a shot from the middle of the box, Haskell cut down the angle to make a reaction kick save to keep the game scoreless.

After finally clearing the ball out of harm’s way, the Blue Eagles went on the counterattack and earned a corner kick. The ball landed on the foot of Sammi McGee, who quickly got off a shot through traffic in front. Pingry keeper Delaney Swain was in position to make the stop, but the ball took a deflection off a Pingry defender, and it bounced into the net with 5:19 to play in the half to put IHA in front, 1-0.

Nuwayhid nearly tied the game early in the second half after slicing between two defenders then ripping a shot that just bent around the right post. Whether that play lit a fire under them or was just coincidental spark, the Blue Eagles flipped the switch and never turned it off. With IHA standout, Barry, shadow-marked with a sweeper over top for the entire game, that gave Probst space in the midfield and Forshay room to operate in the attacking third. That connection was dynamite throughout the second half with Probst finding Forshay, who set up a defender all game for this one opportunity. Instead of making her usual run once she got the ball towards the flag, she cut back inside to create space before ripping a shot from the top of the box into the lower right-hand corner in the 47th minute.

Alex Barry scored twice for IHA, which will play Paul VI in the Non-Public A state final.

“It all started with connecting more, playing quicker, and playing with a purpose,” said IHA head coach Eric Pfeifer. “We wanted to make (Pingry) chase the ball. Less touches, move the ball, and sliding Caitlin a little to the right where she could turn and attack. She really set up that goal by working hard and making that run over and over during the first twenty minutes. It was really impressive that she scored that goal the way she did because she earned that opening by working hard early in the game.”

IHA quickly padded their lead after earning another corner kick. Daniella Osorio sent a long ball towards the back post. Barry was there to collect it and then find a familiar spot. She held off a defender then blasted a shot into the lower right-hand corner to make it 3-0 and put IHA firmly in control.

Later in the half, the Blue Eagles put the game on ice with two more goals in a two-minute span. Probst scored a nearly identical goal to Forshay’s tally and then Barry took advantage of another corner by heading it in to guess where? All four of IHA’s second-half goals went either into the side netting on the right side or the lower right-hand corner as the Blue Eagle faithful were whipped into a frenzy with a 5-0 lead.

Pingry (12-6) avoided a shutout when Nuwayhid converted a penalty kick for her 20th goal of the season. But it would do little to diminish IHA coming together and putting together its best half of the season as the most crucial time.

Barry scored a pair of goals for IHA (17-3). The junior has now scored in nine straight games and has 33 goals on the season. The Blue Eagles are now 80 minutes away from back-to-back Non-Public A state title. They will face upstart Paul VI, which came from the seventh seed to upset each of the top three seeds on the road to win its first Non-Public South A section title in over two decades. That game will be at Kean University at 3:00 P.M. on Sunday. All of the pressure will be on the Blue Eagles, but that is exactly where they feel most comfortable.

“All season we’ve been talking about coming out with a lot of energy and setting a tone,” said Barry. “We brought the energy today, but we also played really smart. This is the time of year where we’re want to be at our best. This team loves being together and playing together. We knew winning this game would not just win us the section, it would give us another week to be together as a team. All season we have been looking forward to this game and we’ll be ready to go.”