SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Ridge girls soccer team posted its fifth shutout in as many state tournament games, and, this time, created some formidable offensive sparks, as well, to hand Livingston its first loss of the season.
Ally Friedman and Julia Lindsey each scored goals to lift Ridge to a 2-0 victory in the NJSIAA Group 4 semifinal Tuesday night. Ridge will make its second consecutive appearance in the Group 4 state championship game Saturday at 3 p.m. at Kean University against Hunterdon Central. Ridge tied Freehold Township, 0-0, to share the state title in 2015.
And scoreless ties seemed to be all that was on the menu this post-season, too, after Ridge (16-4-2) advanced past both Westfield and Scotch Plains-Fanwood—each undefeated—to claim the Section 2, Group 4 title by prevailing in penalty kicks after 0-0 ties in both of those contests.
But against Livingston (19-1-1), the Red Devils finally found some offense—from one of their premier defensive players. Less than eight minutes into the game, Amanda Cox fed Friedman with a corner kick and Friedman stepped up and booted the ball past Livingston keeper Nicole Kwoczka from 15 yards away on the left side for a 1-0 lead.
"An early goal like that was much needed," said Friedman, whose team had gone more than 250 minutes without a goal during regular play. "We were very much trying to avoid going to PKs again."
Ridge had become so accustomed to scoreless wars of attrition that an early 1-0 lead was a rare luxury.
"Ally made a key play on defense, and it was tremendous to watch her on the back line and then also help her team get on the board," Ridge coach Katie Donahue said. "When we scored early, we were on the bench, like, 'OK, what do we do now'?"
Friedman, along with senior Olivia Melnyk, missed the Oct. 1 regular season meeting between Ridge and Livingston that ended in a 1-1 tie. What Ridge learned from that contest was that the Lancers play physically and that maintaining composure and avoiding fouls would be critical.
"We stressed that we did not want to give them free kicks, and they ended up having eight set pieces in the game," Donahue said. "But we were much more disciplined in the second half."
Livingston's most dangerous offensive player, Olivia Shevrin, came into the game with twice as many goals--16--as the leading scorer for balanced Ridge. Molly Mahoney had a lot to do with keeping the explosive Shevrin from scoring on Tuesday.
"We straight up marked (Shevrin) with Molly and she did a great job," Donahue said.
Mahoney played an integral role in Ridge's second goal. After Ridge withstood Livingston's set pieces with both goalies, Ally Lindsey (who left briefly with a jaw injury in the first half) and Katie Grierson, performing admirably for the Red Devils, Ridge took to the attack in the second half.
Julia Lindsey and Mahoney both narrowly missed scoring goals in the first 17 minutes of the second half before the two combined on Ridge's second goal. Mahoney delivered a throw-in from the right corner and Lindsey emerged from a scrum of Red Devils and Lancers in the front of the net to head the ball into the net with 21:08 left in the second half.
"Molly threw it in and we wanted Julia as a flick, and she headed it on frame," Donahue said.
Ridge just missed padding its lead when Sam Weyrauch missed from head on two minutes later, and Kaitlyn Arrigan nearly scored from in close with 15 minutes to go. But Ridge's airtight defense, with Grierson and Ally Lindsey each making three saves, was, by that point, a virtual lock not to permit two goals in the final 15 minutes. After all, the Red Devils are now unscored upon in seven of their last nine games.