FIELD HOCKEY: Mustangs moving on to CCS finals

Gilroy rushes to celebrate with Dani Hemeon after her goal

Senior Dani Hemeon blistered a reverse-sweep shot into the back
of the net with 13:57 remaining in the second half and the defense,
which played stingy throughout, held up as the No. 2 Mustangs
toppled No. 3 Archbishop Mitty 1-0 in an edge-of-your-seat Central
Coast Section semifinals matchup at Del Mar High School in San
Jose.
ON TWITTER: For updates throughout the game by Sports Editor
Josh Weaver, click here.
SAN JOSE – It’s been a long time coming. Now, it’s one game away.

The Gilroy High field hockey team broke its pregame huddle with the chant “Destiny.” The players knew their time had to be now. On Tuesday night, the Mustangs grasped the task at hand and took one giant leap closer to the pot of gold at the end of the Central Coast Section rainbow.

Senior Dani Hemeon blistered a reverse-sweep shot into the back of the net with 13:57 remaining in the second half and the defense, which played stingy throughout, held up as the No. 2 Mustangs toppled No. 3 Archbishop Mitty 1-0 in an edge-of-your-seat CCS semifinals matchup at Del Mar High School in San Jose.

“I was taking her right and she kind of cut off my passing lane, so I went to my weak side,” Hemeon said of the play leading to her spot-on shot into the lower right corner of the cage.

“All season, (head coach Adam Gemar) has been telling me, ‘when you get on your weak side just blast it.’ Usually when I get on my weak side, I baby it because I’m scared I’m going to hit someone. I had one shot and reversed it and it found the back of the net.”

The victory sends the Mustangs into the CCS finals for the first time in 25 years and marks the fifth finals appearance in program history. The Mustangs are 1-3 in championship games, winning it all in 1983 with a 1-0 triumph over Lynbrook.

“I think we played amazing,” senior Alex Rose said. “Once the whistle was blown, we went out there with high energy and intensity.”

Hemeon’s goal, which ironically ended up being the Mustangs’ lone shot on target, held for the final 13-plus anxious minutes. And as the final whistle sounded, the players mobbed one another; smiles and hugs and sighs of relief, finally knocking down the proverbial wall to the finals.

“For this game, we had it in our heads and in our hearts, we really wanted it more than they did,” senior Shayna Robledo said. “It’s like revenge for all the years past. We have trained all season for this.”

The Monarchs and Mustangs collided twice during the regular season, splitting the series. However, in the most recent matchup the Monarchs dominated play en route to a 2-0 victory.

“They had us running, that’s why,” said Gemar, who takes his first team to the finals in his 13th year at the helm. “We have been here, three, maybe four times to the semis and always got squished by Mitty or Los Gatos. Just to win, period, especially in a close game that could have gone either way, it was a good game.”

What needed to change from the teams’ last encounter, Gemar said, was the effort from his midfielders and defenders. And the Mustangs delivered in both categories, stifling a crafty and high-octane Monarchs’ offense.

“It was really out of our defense,” Gemar added. “We have been working on our defense not letting (Mitty) have the ball. Stephanie (Gomez) and Tayler (Schaut) really stepped up.”

The Mustangs have literally limped into the playoffs following two losses to end the regular season and nagging injuries to, among others, Krissy Chuck and Katelyn Nebesnick. But a 5-0 thrashing of Presentation in the quarterfinals and Tuesday’s blanking of Mitty, the Mustangs appear to be back in top form.

“That was our best performance so far and it came at exactly the right time,” Hemeon said. “It shows the heart on this team. No one is going to take themselves out.”

After Gilroy dictated pace through the first three minutes of play in the first half, Mitty quickly settled in and headed up field, earning a short-corner try. Goalie Jessica Gonzalez managed a key kick save to prevent what could have been a game-altering early score from the Monarchs. Gonzalez tallied four saves in all, including another crucial stop at the tail end of a Monarchs’ surge in the circle midway through the first.

The Mustangs had a pair of opportunities to get on the board in the first half, but on each occasion the rush was spoiled in or just before getting into the scoring circle.

Hemeon took the ball on a restart from 40 yards out and earned a short-corner attempt, but nothing materialized. Four minutes later (12:33), a shot redirected just wide and cleared out by Mitty.

The Monarchs nearly went ahead just before the break as a shot sailed off of the outside of the cage, leading some spectators to think it connected.

The tight defense on both ends continued until Hemeon’s tally-heard-round-Gilroy broke the 0-0 tie.

The last roadblock to the title is fittingly No. 1 Los Gatos, who dismantled No. 12 Del Mar 7-0 in Tuesday’s other semifinal.

The two-time defending Wildcats bumped the Mustangs from the playoffs in the semifinals in the last two seasons. Los Gatos defeated Gilroy in the final game of the regular season in a winner-take-all tilt for the Mount Hamilton Championship on Nov. 12. The Mustangs grabbed a 3-1 victory in the first meeting of the season in October.

“We just got to have a strong week of practice. We have to focus on the things they do best. We have to work on our stops,” Hemeon said. “Then we have to channel all of that anger into that final.”

The championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Del Mar.

To follow Sports Editor Josh Weaver on Twitter during the game, click here.

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