BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- The jab and response, the point-counterpoint that makes up the Ridge-Bridgewater Raritan girls soccer rivalry plays out every fall, with the programs routinely trading off big victories against one another in contests that are invariably hard-fought.
Bridgewater-Raritan, the second seed, scored a goal in each half to defeat fourth-seeded Ridge, 2-0, in the Somerset County Tournament championship game Saturday at the Torpey Complex.
It was the third county championship in a row for Bridgewater, but Ridge has drawn its share of blood in that span, too. The Red Devils defeated the Panthers, 2-1, in overtime earlier this season, and, in 2017, after BRHS had defeated Ridge in the county final, the Red Devils came back to knock the Panthers out of the state tournament the following week.
Ridge (9-7-1) could get a similar opportunity again this year, but more on that a little later.
On Saturday, in a rivalry where both teams are always making adjustments to parry the other team's strategies, Bridgewater-Raritan (12-5) switched from man-to-man--which it employed against Ridge in the regular season--to zone coverage to defend Ridge's corner kicks. And a corner kick that Ridge narrowly missed converting in the second half helped turn the game in Bridgewater's favor.
Rutgers-bound Allison Lowrey, an old hand in the Panthers-Red Devils wars, gave BRHS a 1-0 lead with a goal assisted by freshman Annie Clapp with 15:08 left in the first half. Two freshmen figured in the scoring for the Panthers, whose second goal, with 13:43 left in the game, came from ninth-grader Caitlin Dzuroska.
But in between those two tallies, Ridge actually had the better of play for good portions of the match. In fact, for a 10-minute stretch up until the midway point of the second half, the Red Devils had Bridgewater under siege. Gabby Allen's shot on frame with 29 minutes left was saved by Bridgewater sophomore Maggie Ousouljoglou. With 22 minutes left, Becca Picardo's left-footer from outside the box nearly connected. And just a minute later, Ridge sophomore Payton Uhrig also had a good look and unleashed a left-footer that was just wide left of the post.
Then, with 20:23 left, on a corner kick, Cammie Wylie of Ridge received the ball in the box directly in front of the net and headed the ball goalward. The header hit the crossbar. An inch lower and it would have been a tie game.
"It was a great service in and it was great contact by Cammie," Ridge coach Katie Donahue said of the near-miss. "We also had our chances in the first half. We did everything right in the first half but find the back of the net."
"When that ball hit the crossbar, it woke us up," Bridgewater-Raritan coach Chris Gerber said. "From there we tightened our defense, and a few minutes later we put an extra defender in the back."
With 13:43 left in the game, Dzuroska scored unassisted from 15 yards out on the left side of the box with a shot into the right corner of the net to extend Bridgewater's lead to 2-0.
"Once you fall behind a team as good as Bridgewater by two goals, it makes it very tough to come back," Donahue said. "On any given day between these two teams, anyone can win."
Both goalies made six saves, including Ridge's Alison Miscia, in a match that was both physical and mostly evenly contested.
"Now is the time to let them celebrate, and for us, to gear up for Monday," said Donahue, whose team will host Franklin in the opening round of the Section 2, Group 4 tournament.
If Ridge wins that game, and Bridgewater-Raritan wins its first-round matchup against Plainfield, the Red Devils and the Panthers would meet yet again in the sectional quarterfinals on Thursday.
"You just see them again and again, and it's just a war each time," Donahue said.
Lowrey, in the wake of her winning performance, considered the possibility of another elimination game between her team and Ridge.
"It's gonna be a bloodbath," the Bridgewater-Raritan forward said.