BERKELEY HEIGHTS – The Gov. Livingston boys’ soccer team took some extra practice time this week to work on penalty kicks, and the added workouts paid dividends.
After a scoreless regulation and two scoreless overtime periods sixth-seeded Gov. Livingston advanced into the quarterfinal round with a 1-0 victory over 11th-seeded Cranford on penalty kicks in the second round of the Union County Tournament on Saturday.
Senior captain Connor Bigelow came through with some superb saves in regulation and in the penalty kick round and finished with eight stops while Ray Barnum, Alex Pitt and Jeremy Malave all connected as the Highlanders outscored Cranford (3-8-3) in the PK round, 3-2.
It proved fortuitous that the Highlanders had planned for that situation – just in case.
“We had practiced penalty kicks on Wednesday,” Fontana said. “When you get into the county tournament a PK situation is always a possibility so we wanted to work on those and be ready for if we found ourselves in that spot.”
Gov. Livingston (7-3-3) extended its unbeaten streak to six games (4-0-2) and advances into the quarterfinal round, where it will battle third-seeded Westfield on Oct. 12. The Highlanders’ last setback came against Union, 1-0, on Sept. 19.
“It was a little tough on the nerves, but it was a good back and forth game for sure,” said Gov. Livingston assistant coach Kevin Fontana. “Cranford’s record doesn’t reflect how good of a team they are. They play a tough schedule and we knew they be a tough club that wouldn’t quit.
“We didn’t really think it would be a scoreless game, but they played us tough and we are similar teams that both look to attack. We had planned to put one or two goals in the net and limit their chances and come out with a win in regulation. But in the end, nobody could find the back of the net today. It was about as big of a back and forth game as you could see.”
The Cougars were able to bottle up and hold Gov. Livingston’s top offensive threat Ethan Proper scoreless, despite some nice offensive rushes.
Cranford made an offensive push for a portion of the second half, but Bigelow was able to thwart several chances and keep the game scoreless.
“Connor came up with some huge saves in second half and another huge one in the PK round,” said Fontana. “That really gave us a huge lift and made us believe we could win. He did a great job in goal.”
After the regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods without a goal, the PK formula was straight-forward for the Highlanders.
“We just told our shooters to go out and hit the net,” Fontana recalled. “You don’t want to say too much to them, but we had a lot of confidence in Barnum going first and he loves practicing penalty kicks.”
After Cranford’s initial shooter missed Barnum scored and the Highlanders were on their way.
Now its on to face Westfield, a club the Highlanders have not faced.
“They’re certainly a top team and they’ll be tough,” said Fontana. “They will try to take the game to us, and we have to stay calm and play our game with solid defense. We’ve played well on defense lately and haven’t allowed a goal in regulation in our last four games. We will go into the game prepared.”