WEST ORANGE -- The field is set for the 2017 NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils State Tournament as the Delbarton Green Wave, Ridge Red Devils and never-say-die 13th-seeded Watchung Hills Warriors booked their ticket to the finals with victories in the semifinals at Codey Arena in West Orange last night. Here's a recap of all three bouts:
13-Watchung Hills 6, 9-Princeton 3: No one expected them to be here and that suits Watchung Hills just fine.
Matt Piro turned in his second hat trick of the season at the most opportune time, Zach Lindewirth scored twice and Daniel Lee added a goal and an assist while goaltender Ryan McHugh stood tall with 31 saves as 13th-seeded Watchung Hills continued to let its play do its talking as it fashioned yet another upset with a 6-3 triumph over ninth-seeded Princeton in the semifinals of the Public A State Tournament at Codey Arena Thursday night.
Trailing 3-2 late in the second period, Lee's goal with 34 seconds left in the middle frame proved crucial for Watchung Hills, tying the game up at 3-3 heading into the second intermission and setting up a third period for all the marbles.
"We got a good forecheck and jumped on 'em quick," Piro said. Zach -- he's such a great shooter. My job is to get in front of the net and create traffic. Zach made a nice play to catch the puck right before the blue line, turned, made a move past one player and luckily enough it went off my foot and went in."
Piro's second goal of the game marked the second of four unanswered goals for Watchung Hills, which added a pair of empty-net goals over the final 1:08 in what was an otherwise tight game throughout the contest.
"We all know it -- we're not supposed to be here," Piro said. "We don't have a winning program like Ridge, Bridgewater, but we're creating our own history right now. Most of us have never experienced anything like this. Each game is the biggest of our career and we just keep doing it."
Watchung Hills (12-6-7) is heading back to the state finals for the first time since 2008. It is seeking its first championship in school history.
"Pretty emotional obviously -- first time we've been here since '08," Lindewirth said. "It was our best team game we've played so far. I think we needed that. This was definitely the best team we've seen so far. But we were prepared, watched film on them and shut them down pretty good."
Nick Ashcroft, Tooker Callaway and Rocco Salvato scored for Princeton (15-4-4), which pulled two upsets, including the take down of top-seed Morris Knolls, before finally bowing out.
"Zach, Ryan and Matt -- those are the players you lean on. You have your leadership and they play hard every night," Watchung Hills coach Anthony Criscitello said. "They know they can trust in each other, go out and work hard and they'll be successful. Hopefully we can take one home on Sunday that would be nice."