Cara Pascarella, Julia DiMaria back Hills defense

Hills' Cara Pascarella and Julia DiMaria trap Middle Hills' Cara Pascarella and Julia DiMaria trap Middle County's Paige Masullo along the sidelines in the second half. (April 30, 2013) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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For once, Julia DiMaria had to watch it all from the other side of the restraining line.

The midfielder-turned-attack-for-the-day stood at the ready while her Half Hollow Hills defense mostly contained one of the best scorers in the county, Middle Country's Nikki Ortega. She cheered with her teammates when Jillian Rocco swatted away shot after shot, and looked on as backer Dani Marx hit her mark over and over again.

And when DiMaria finally got the ball in her stick, well, she made it count.

The senior, shifting position to nurse a pulled groin, scored three times in Hills' 9-6 Division I victory. The Thundercolts, who play a hybrid man-to-man/backer defense, have allowed seven goals or fewer in what is now a four-game win streak. Hills' Cara Pascarella also had a hat-trick, and Ortega had three goals and an assist.

"I'm actually pretty upset I couldn't be a part of the defense," DiMaria said. "It's really working as a unit now. We know that we can slide and our second defenders are there for us, and we have a solid goalie coming up with these big-time saves."

Hills (8-3) scored four straight to close the first half, capped by DiMaria's goal with 1:50 left -- a score on which she picked up a ground ball about 20 meters out and went one on one with the goalie to make it 7-2. Though Amanda Masullo's goal off an Ortega feed with 13:31 left to play drew the Cougarines (7-4) to within three, the Hills' defense forced three turnovers in its own territory to extinguish the threat.

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"I've been their goalie for four years, and I've never seen a defense like this," said Rocco (nine saves). "Every team we play has the two key girls that can score at will, but I think our communication is amazing . . . I talk really well with my defenders, my backer, and it helps us break down offenses and really double to the ball well."

Though Hills formerly used a straight backer -- a loose zone defense with a sliding player who protects if the original defender gets beaten -- they've since decided to exploit their team athleticism and move to hybrid, coach Lori Horback said. Now, "we're pressuring the ball," Marx said. "We try to attack because those key players can be dangerous. It helps incredibly."

So much so that DiMaria can't wait to return to her old post. "When I started in eighth grade, we'd be lucky if we only let up 10 goals," she said. "It's so gratifying as a player to see the transition on and off the field . . . it's great. We're so confident with each other."

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