SCOTCH PLAINS-FANWOOD, NJ – After mounting a last-minute comeback, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood girls soccer season came to an abrupt end as Bridgewater-Raritan severed a 1-1 tie with less than a minute to play Monday.
The NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 semifinal was truly a back and forth battle between two of the best teams in the state, as both were denied scores within the first 40 minutes of play.
The Panthers changed that just eight minutes into the second half when Samantha Orecchio beat Andrea Leitner on a centering pass from Addison Reilly to take a 1-0 lead.
Bridgewater-Raritan hung on to their one-goal advantage for the next 31 minutes, fending off a merciless Scotch Plains-Fanwood offense. Countless opportunities arose for the Raiders, and after Christina Rodgers was denied point blank by Alexa Barbagallo, it seemed as though it would only be a matter of time before they knotted the score.
“Alexa’s been tremendous all season, but today was the game of her life,” Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Chris Gerber said. “We needed her to come up big, make the big saves and today she was spectacular.”
Just as the game reached its final two minutes, Raiders’ forward Kerri McNeely got just enough of a loose ball within the six-yard-box to tie the game 1-1, electrifying the home crowd.
“Teams get down a goal and they press, we had to deal with it. It got scary a couple times,” Gerber said. “They scored, and good teams do that, but we just had to hang in there.”
Awaiting a final whistle and overtime, the crowd was stunned, however, when the ball was jostled loose from the grasp of Raiders goalkeeper Andrea Leitner and sent into the back of the net by Jezlyn Jimenez with less than a minute to play.
“I knew we could push through and we were stronger than them,” Jimenez said. “I knew we were going to win this.”
The 2-1 lead would prevail as the Panthers locked a position in the NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 Final, eliminating the Raiders from the tournament.
“Overall, we had our chances, we just decided to play the way we were capable of, and that’s what the kids started doing,” Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Kevin Ewing said. “We had some opportunities we didn’t cash in on, made two mistakes and it cost us two goals.”
The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Raiders, unable to advance beyond the semifinal for the second year in a row, finish 20-2-1.
“We only have a few seniors on the team, a lot of new faces, so you’re unsure what the season holds, but the seniors and underclassmen stepped up,” Ewing added.
The North 2 Group 4 final is scheduled for Nov. 12 at 2 p.m., where the Panthers will look to upset the No. 1 seed, Ridge Red Devils.
“These kids have been there before," Gerber said. "They’re ready for it, they’re prepared.”