UNION, N.J. — Much of the game felt almost anti-climactic.
It was as if the Haddonfield girls' lacrosse team team was too prepared. Too ready for the moment.
And there was the weather. Stretches, particularly the end of the second half, were played in a downpour: a miserably humid, wet afternoon an hour-and-a-half from home at Kean University.
Under the circumstances, it didn't feel as if the final second ticking off the clock would ignite wild celebration.
Except it did.
"This just meant so much to us this year — we lost this game last year and we knew we were going to come into this game and give it every single thing we had this time," said Jaimie McCormick after she and her Haddonfield girls' lacrosse teammates handled Sparta, 18-11, in the state Group 2 championship, marking the school's first-ever state title in the sport.
Haddonfield fell in the state title game year last year to Bernards by a 15-5 score. That Haddonfield team was a young, obviously talented and up-and-coming team. The potential was clear.
This year — after proving its dominance in the regular season and South Jersey playoffs — Haddonfield capitalized on that potential.
"These girls work so hard every day — they deserve this," said Haddonfield coach Jess Blake. It was Blake's birthday on Saturday, and after the on-field celebration, rain still pouring down, the Bulldawgs serenaded Blake with "Happy Birthday."
"The whole afternoon was just so meaningful," said Blake, whose team moves on to the Tournament of Champions with a record of 21-1.
In a testament to the Bulldawgs' depth, five players scored multiple goals, led by four goals each from McCormick and freshman sensation McKenzie Blake.
The Bulldawgs controlled nearly the entire game with except for a stretch early in the second half when Sparta ripped off four unanswered goals in seven minutes to close the score to 12-10. Haddonfield called timeout after the final goal of that stretch and quickly regained momentum.
"I think at that point we were playing not to lose," Jess Blake said. "I told the girls, 'If you want the game, you're going to have to go take it.' "
And they did, outscoring Sparta 6-1 over the final 11:21.
"We knew they would come back, and they did," said junior Ashley Campo, who netted two goals. "We just had to keep playing our game."
Even after allowing Sparta to score first in the opening minutes, Haddonfield wasted little time in establishing control.
The Bulldawgs rattled off five goals in under nine minutes to take a 5-1 lead midway through the first half. They went into halftime ahead by 11-5.
Sparta featured several elite scorers, and while star players like Kaitlyn Mead (4 goals) and Brianna Falco (3) were effective, the Haddonfield defense, as it has all year, was able to limit the damage.
"We just had to keep fighting," Campo said. "All year our goal was to get to this game and finish it out. We just played how we knew we could."
Sparta 5 6 — 11
Haddonfield 11 7 — 18
Goals: S- Samantha Charles, Brianna Falco 3, Hailey Mead 2, Kaitlin Mead 4, Lauren Neufield; H- Caroline Beckett 3, McKenzie Blake 4, Ashley Campo 2, Gabi Connor 4, Jaimie McCormick 4, Emily Smart.