LIVINGSTON, NJ -- The Livingston girls soccer team played Montclair on even terms through regulation and two 10-minute overtimes, but the top-seeded Mounties claimed the advantage in the penalty kick shootout to win the Essex County Tournament championship Saturday night.
The score was a 1-1 tie after 100 minutes of regular soccer. Livingston would have shared the county title under the old format. In fact, the Lancers did, as recently as two years ago, when they and Montclair-Kimberley Academy were declared co-champs of the ECT after playing to a tie.
At that time, penalty kick shootouts were not used to crown a single champ, but only to advance teams in earlier rounds of a tournament.
Livingston had beaten Montclair in the 2016 county final. The two schools have played in the most Essex County girls soccer finals.
Montclair (14-0-1) made all four of its penalty kicks in the shootout. Livingston (12-2-1) made two PKs, by Kayla Parsons and Caitlyn Leffler.
After a scoreless first half, Montclair went ahead, 1-0, when junior Claire Manning one-timed a shot from outside the 20 into the left corner of the net 10 minutes into the second half.
Five minutes later, sophomore goalie Gianna Healy made a tough save off a Montclair corner kick, and that play by Livingston's keeper seemed to coincide with the shift in both fortunes and momentum for the Lancers.
"Gianna is just a sophomore, and she hasn't even been a goalie for very long," Livingston head coach Brian Carr said. "She has really been incredible for us all season, and the defense has done a great job in front of her."
With 22:44 left in regulation, Livingston sophomore forward Jadyn Liebman scored from inside the box after a scramble in front of the net.
"Jadyn is a phenomenal player with a knack for scoring big goals for us," Carr said. "She has scored three goals in the last three games, and they have come at big moments."
From that point on, Livingston had the better of play for the rest of regulation and through the first overtime session. The Lancers forced the tempo and kept the ball in the Montclair end most of that stretch.
"Our philosophy is based on attacking," Carr said. "We believe the best defense is a good offense, and, combined with our press, we kept (Montclair) under pressure."
With 9:30 left in regulation, Parsons headed a ball to Victoria Wang that was saved by the Montclair goalie. With 7:40 showing, junior forward Lauren Belcuore came excruciatingly close to giving Livingston a lead with a hard shot from the 10 that sailed just wide right of the post. Belcuore also hit the crossbar with a point blank shot in the first overtime. Parsons also boomed a left-footed shot on frame in overtime that was saved.
"It's a game of inches," Carr said, "and a few times tonight, we were just an inch off."