BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Dispensing with some of the white-knuckle drama that punctuated their last championship meeting just 12 days earlier, the Ridge girls soccer team defeated Bridgewater-Raritan, 3-1, on Thursday afternoon to capture the NJSIAA Section 2, Group 4 championship on a slick surface under gray skies.
Ridge will meet Section 1, Group 4 champion Montclair in the state Group 4 semifinal next week at a date and site to be announced. Montclair routed Kearny, 5-0, in their sectional title game yesterday.
Ridge (22-0) remained undefeated, having not lost in exactly one year, since it fell in overtime to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the 2014 sectional final. Many in the soccer community expected a rematch between those two heavyweights this year, but Bridgewater-Raritan (17-8) spoiled the script by upsetting SPF, 2-1, on Monday, setting up instead a rematch of the Somerset County Tournament championship of two weekends ago.
On that day, Ridge defeated B-R, 1-0, in overtime. Ridge was 4-0 against Bridgewater this season.
Instead of waiting until the 100th minute to break the scoreless tie as had been the case on Halloween, it took Ridge just 20 minutes to get on the board Thursday when Amanda Cox took a sliding feed from Shannon Keefe on the left side and connected on a goal from in front of the net for a 1-0 lead.
"Amanda Cox stayed calm and technical on that slide ball Shannon sent her," Ridge coach Katie Donahue said. "That was huge."
Just seven minutes into the contest, Bridgewater tested Ridge goalie Samantha Carney, who made a critical save to turn back the Panthers' best threat of the opening half, which ended, 1-0.
"Carney's saves early (in the first half) kept us in the game," Donahue said.
Ridge's second goal, less than five minutes into the second half, was a textbook tally, with Anna Hess sending a cross from the left side to Julia Lindsey, who buried the shot from 15 yards out in front of the net for a 2-0 Red Devils lead.
"Hess just did an amazing job from the side there and Julia provided a perfect finish," Donahue said of the second goal which, given Ridge's knack for shutting teams down (17 shutouts this season), may have looked like it would seal the verdict.
But Bridgewater, which on Monday answered a Scotch Plains tying goal with a minute to go by scoring just 30 seconds later to win that game, answered here just five minutes after Lindsey's goal with a head ball by Samantha Orecchio that cut the deficit to 2-1 with 30:15 left in the second half. It was the first goal Bridgewater scored against Ridge this season after 310 minutes of being blanked by Carney, Erin Convery, Ally Friedman and the rest of Ridge's back line players this fall.
The contest teetered on the brink for the next 13 minutes until senior Chrissy Weyrauch, who had already turned in a stellar effort controlling the middle of the field until that point, gave Ridge an insurance goal from in front of the net off a corner from Brielle Farrell with 17:52 to go.
"It was an awesome corner from Brielle," said Weyrauch, whose goal beat Bridgewater in the SCT championship game. "I just kneed it in. After that, we felt like we didn't need to keep pressing, and just made sure not to make any stupid mistakes."
"This is such a great group of players we have," Donahue said. "They stick together and they just never take anything for granted."
Carney and Bridgewater goalie Alexa Barbagallo each made five saves.