SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – In a battle between two of the top 10 ranked teams in the state for the North 2, Group 3 sectional title the no. 10 ranked Chatham Cougars lost to no. 7 ranked Scotch Plains-Fanwood by a score of 2-0 before a crowd of over 600 on a windy Friday afternoon at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School.
Both squads came into the game with 20 wins on their season, setting up an exciting matchup between two excellent offenses. However, the problem for Chatham was that they could not break through the Scotch-Plains defense as the team was held scoreless through 80 minutes of play.
“The reality is…we did not connect the ball like we typically do in our kind of possession game. We didn’t get inside their defense enough,” Chatham Head Coach Gene Foca said. “All in all if you look at the balance of the game, Scotch Plains deserved to win.”
The contest started out with Scotch Plains controlling possession for the most part and keeping the ball on the Chatham end of the field.
The Union County team broke through with the first goal of the game when Billy Babis sent a ball into the box for teammate Travis Cortes, who broke out behind the Chatham defense. He collected the pass and blasted a shot past goaltender Geoff Gill to give Scotch Plains the 1-0 edge at the 24:50 mark of the first half.
Chatham had a couple of chances to tie the game before halftime, but they could not connect on some quality opportunities.
On one play, a ball deflected out to forward Trip Burke who lasered a hard shot that just missed wide left. A few minutes later, off a direct kick, Brian Schaefer fired the ball on goal past the outstretched reach of goaltender Vincenzo Bianco that just grazed the crossbar before going out of bounds.
“We had a few really good opportunities, obviously in the first half. We had a great free kick opportunity…on the frame that hit the crossbar. We thought free kicks such as that was (how we would score),” Foca said.
In the beginning of the second half Chatham had yet another chance to tie the score at one apiece, but it was not to be. Sophomore Patrick Fuller had an open look just outside of the ’18, but his shot sailed over the goal.
After that play, Scotch-Plains countered in transition and netted yet another goal to take a 2-0 lead when Ryan McKenna connected with about 32 minutes to play.
However, Chatham would refuse to give up and tried to sustain some offensive pressure in an attempt to get back in the game. After an indirect kick, when Burke was tripped near the left side of the Scotch Plains goal, Chad Gildersleeve got a foot on the ball that went wide left of the cage. Near the end of the game Schaefer put another good ball on Bianco’s goal, but he made a tremendous diving save to keep it out of his goal before time expired.
“Certainly we would have loved to win this game. We played them in the sectional final last year and we beat them. We came here this year and they beat us,” Foca said. “Our guys played well, but Scotch Plains played better.”
For Chatham, it was only the third time the team was shutout all season and only their second loss. They are now 20-2-1 and will look forward to the Morris County tournament finals when they will travel to play no. 2 ranked Delbarton High School this Sunday at noon.
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