ANNANDALE, NJ — The Ridge girls soccer team finished a perfect run through the revamped sectional tournament to win the Central West C championship with a 1-0 victory over North Hunterdon on Sunday.
Senior Abbie McCrea scored the game's only goal with 27:38 left in the first half. Moments after North Hunterdon had missed on a corner kick at one end, McCrea made a run and found herself with a breakaway opportunity at the other end. She ran ahead of the field and finished a strong, right-footed shot on the move into the net.
"Abbie stole the ball from the back line and buried this one with no chance for their keeper to get it," Ridge head coach Katie Donahue said. "That was the kind of goal that was getting scored against us early in the season. But, here, it was like, 'look what we did.' OK, let’s take a breath now, we're ahead. They had more production and tempo in the first half, but we were up, 1-0. They have a field that’s 20 yards shorter than what we're used to, so we knew we wouldn't have the space we normally would."
Twice in the final two minutes of the first half, North Hunterdon (9-3-2) came perilously close to tying the game, with one header going over the crossbar and another long shot attempt hitting the crossbar with 1:20 left.
Ridge goalie Allison Miscia played a strong game both as a netminder and when she needed to kick the ball deep back into the field of play. With 9:35 left in the second half, Ridge's other goalie, Carly Villa, came out to make a difficult diving stop well out in front of the net. Another Lions shot attempt hit the crossbar with 3:00 left in the game.
With Ridge holding the early lead, Donahue told Gabby Allen, the team's most experienced player on the back line, to stay back and hold the fort there rather than making any of the runs forward for which the skilled Allen is known to do sometimes.
Ridge (8-5-4) avenged a 1-0 loss to North Hunterdon on opening day of the regular season. The Red Devils did not allow a goal in three post-season games, and finished the season with four consecutive shutouts.
"Our defense really turned it on. I was really impressed with the way our keepers Allison Miscia and Carly Villa took turns coming up with big saves," Donahue said. "And Olivia Pikell, Amanda Mertz, Gabby Allen and Katie Keefe played well in the back. I was pleased with the way they took the moment as it came, after playing two overtimes and then PKs in the semis, that took every ounce we had. Less than 48 hours later, the players found a way to refocus."
McCrea led Ridge in both goals (9) and assists (7) this season. McCrea scored two goals in Ridge's first-round, 3-0 victory over Princeton last week.
"Another important player today was Payton Uhrig," Donahue said. "Although she didn't score, she drew two or three defenders every time she touched the ball."
Ridge won a share of the Group 4 state championship in both 2015 and 2017. This season, the NJSIAA dispensed with playing down to a single champion in each group, instead holding smaller sectional "pod" tournaments.
"At end of the day, we won the last game of the season, and they found a way to go on the road and take out three higher seeds," Donahue said. "I am just so pleased they put all the pieces together. The strength of our schedule was so tough, a lot of teams we played this season were still playing today (in other sectional finals). That prepared us for today.
"It’s a great feeling. It’s wonderful for our seniors too. Every day, we don’t know, we don’t know whether we'd get to keep playing. I am SO grateful we got the season in. It really felt like a season."