"I thought I'd have a heart attack," Lamperti said late Thursday afternoon when thinking back of the extra 6:24 second-seeded West Morris needed to register a 4-3 win over third-seeded Chatham. "My heart was beating so fast, like 90 beats per second."
The rapid heart rate, no doubt, lingered long after senior midfielder Erin Gutkind knocked in the decisive goal for West Morris (14-1) with 3:36 left in OT. Michelle Hennelly, who had her first career hat trick, assisted on the gamewinner.
By eking out the win, the Wolfpack, wearing mud from their field as eye black, gained a spot in Saturday's final opposite top-seeded Madison. The title game will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Boonton High School. It is the second final appearance for West Morris in three years. In 2009, the Wolfpack were edged, 2-1, by Madison in overtime.
Lamperti, ecstatic to be in the championship game, exhibited no signs of distress in the overtime, holding her ground in the circle and helping to repel Chatham (12-4). The play of Lamperti and Jen Cuozzo, West Morris' goalie, was critical. A little over one minute into OT, Cuozzo made a kick save, sending the ball beyond midfield.
"Jen and I have that defensive bond," Lamperti said. "I get nervous but, once the ball goes in, it's great. We get to run down the other end and celebrate with everyone. I've played in overtimes but, every time, it still gets me."
And, just how does she make it through all of the anxious moments?
"I tell myself to take a deep breath and calm down," Lamperti said. "I tell myself 'You can do this. You'll get the ball out.' I know we'll get down the field and we'll win."
The defending MCT champion Cougars came back from a 3-1 deficit, getting goals from seniors Megan Palmisano and Natalia Maurillo in a three-minute span in the second half.
Palmisano, a back, struck for an unassisted goal with 6:12 left in the second half. Palmisano drove the ball into the cage from the top right side of the circle. Maurillo, a forward, converted off a corner with 3:11 remaining. The goal shocked West Morris, which had beaten Chatham 4-1 earlier in the season. The Wolfpack went into survivor mode, fighting to keep the Cougars out and trying to gain control.
"At 3-1, we probably became a bit too comfortable," said Hennelly, West Morris' senior right wing. "We woke ourselves up and got back on top of things."
Wolfpack coach Courtney Bertos agreed that her players were at ease when Chatham struck late.
"We weren't pressuring as much," Bertos said. "Chatham gets credit for stepping up."
Coach Jeremy Heinze just wished his Cougars, who were outshot 12-6, got their attack going sooner. After Maurillo put in a goal 12:58 into the opening half to knot the score, 1-1, the offense had its moments but didn't have enough lengthy stays in West Morris territory.
"We didn't generate much offense until there was about nine minutes to go," Heinze said. "That's what you regret. We wanted more shots on goal. West Morris blocks it up and doesn't let you generate much on attack."
Maurillo, as always, was a force, bringing the ball up and exhibiting strong stickwork. However, as West Morris' main focus, Maurillo often couldn't get open or continue to advance without being hindered.
West Morris, looking for its first MCT crown, gained a 1-0 lead 8:46 into the first half on Hennelly's goal assisted by Mimi Journey. Hennelly connected off a corner after picking up a rebound.
Hennelly put West Morris out in front, 2-1, with another corner goal 9:54 before halftime. Defender Alyssa Perkalis sent the ball into the circle to Gutkind. Emily Rubright tipped it before Hennelly applied the finishing touch, sending the ball into the left corner.
With 14:19 left in the second half, Hennelly boosted the Wolfpack's advantage to 3-1. Gutkind was on the assist side.
"West Morris' corner attack is so good," Heinze said. "They control the ball so well. They get the ball and are ready to pass."
Unlike Lamperti, Hennelly didn't fret when it came down to overtime.
"We practice 7 vs. 7 every single practice," Hennelly said. "We try to be comfortable with it. If we're nervous, we try to calm ourselves. We tell each other we believe in each other and love each other. Whatever happens, we'll still love each other."
Backs Kit Whiteman, Megan Hoffman and Maddy Hamilton offered reliable play for Chatham. West Morris' Perkalis, a back, had the task of marking Maurillo in OT. Right midfielder Ashlee Folkes also played well for the Wolfpack.>