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Knights Advance to TOC Finals

Cafone scores twice to lead West Essex field hockey.

There's still one more game left in the field hockey season. The biggest game of the year.

The Knights knocked off Shore Regional in the Tournament of Champions semifinals on Thursday afternoon, 4-1, propelled by two first-half goals from Natalie Cafone.

Amanda Cassera opened the scoring for West Essex, finishing off a pass from Alexis Miller less than seven minutes into play. At 16:51, Cafone put the Knights up 2-0, and then put the locals up by three goals later in the half.

"Natalie is a dynamic player. Not just for how she plays, but for who she is," said West Essex head coach Jill Cosse. "She has an energy that is hard to duplicate and yet it is her attitude that draws you to her the most. She hates to lose and will take on anyone who gets in her way in order for her to win."

Coming into the game, Shore was undefeated at 24-0 and had been held to a single goal just once this season. The West Essex defense was key in holding down Shore's scoring threats throughout the contest. The Knights have allowed just three goals this postseason and not more than one in any game.

"I think my defense is rock solid. We have an insane backfield this year with Jackie Fusco, Mikayla Cimilluca and Stephanie Pezzuti and finally Melissa Laible in the cage," Cosse said. "They trust each other and have developed their own overlapping style this year. They have been tested by fantastic opponents and they know how to steal balls and deliver them to the midfield line."

After falling behind 4-0 via an Adrianna Farina score early in the second half, Shore broke through with a goal from Hannah Barreca. However, the Knights had built too big of a lead by that point.

West Essex moves on to the final where they will have to defeat yet another unbeaten team. Top seeded Eastern Regional awaits the Knights fresh off of an 8-1 laugher over Freehold Borough. West Essex is 23-1 and will be playing in their second TOC final and first since 2006, when they were defeated by Eastern. The championship game is on Sunday at 11 a.m. at The College of New Jersey.

"I am so excited. I think this is the best team I have ever coached at West Essex," Cosse said. "Talent wise there is no other team that matches up as well.  We are loaded in every spot and I believe we can make a huge run for this title. We have wanted to achieve all our goals with this team and right now we face our last one as we have never won a TOC championship."

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