BRIDGEWATER — Take out a mere 60-second span seven minutes in, and Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Bridgewater-Raritan might still be even with each other. But two Morgan Winchock goals that came under a minute apart provided a Bridgewater-Raritan with a lead that stood for the final 72 minutes.
Seven minutes into the game, Winchock scored twice in under a minute’s span, which was all No. 1-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan needed to take down No. 4 Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 2-0, in the North 2, Group 4 sectional semifinal on a rainy Tuesday evening. Winchock followed up her seventh-minute header with a rip from around 25 yards out seconds later to punch the Panthers’ ticket to the sectional final, where they’ll face No. 2 Watchung Hills in a Somerset County Final rematch.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood, meanwhile, has its season end, though it played more than exceptionally against a Panthers team ranked No. 9 in the nation.
“I’m really happy that I know getting those two goals was important for us,” Winchock told TAPinto.net. “Especially with the wet conditions, having that one goal up is like a really big step forward in securing what we have.”
Those wet conditions Winchock mentioned were actually a big dynamic throughout the game. Contrary to earlier forecasts, heavy rain started right at kickoff and hardly let up through the match. Rain like that can sometimes become a second opponent, but the Panthers struck quick enough to eliminate that factor.
In the seventh minute, Francesca Escudero took a corner kick from the left flag and sent a strong ball over to the back right post. Just as it was drawn up, Winchock was there to finish it into the net and give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
Winchock wasn’t finished though, and as if that header wasn’t smooth enough, the senior’s next strike was a true dandy. Just seconds out of the restart, Winchock found the ball at her possession, put her head down, and fired away a shot from around 25 yards out. The ball found net just below the crossbar as Bridgewater-Raritan scored again, and before most could even finish celebrating the first.
"I didn't think anybody was around me [on that second goal]," Winchock said. "I knew where the goal was, so as soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to hit it as hard as I possibly could, and it ended up going in."
Winchock is a crucial piece to the Panthers' attacking midfield, and now has nine goals this season. Her last goal before Tuesday's won Bridgewater-Raritan a county title against a Watchung Hills team in which she has now set up a rematch against with these two.
“You always want to get that corner in early, maybe catch them napping, and then Morgan just hit a great shot,” Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Chris Gerber said of the early and quick scoring display from Winchock. “She’s been putting in really timely goals for us all season.”
That lead was all Bridgewater-Raritan needed to finish out the victory. The Panthers' backline of Allison Lynch and Frankie Markovich at center back, with Kristina Ng and Escudero on the wings neutralized a strong Scotch Plains-Fanwood attack to just four total shots, each of which freshman keeper Maggie Ousouljoglu saved for the shutout.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood entered Tuesday's semifinal with a great attack that had really been coming into its own as the season progressed. But the Panthers prevented potent scorers in Corinne Lyght, Lizzie Ley, Faith Price, Leah Klurman, and Holly Nelson -- to name a few -- from creating any dangerous runs.
“They’re a senior group, and they knew what they needed to do — veteran group that’s been playing for two, three years now," Gerber said of his backline. "We did some things in the second half that nullified Corinne [Lyght] just to take her out of the game a little bit, because we didn’t want her to be the one to beat us. She creates space, and we put our more physical center midfielder on her.”
“Take back the first eight minutes of the game, and it’s a pretty even game," Raiders head coach Kevin Ewing said. "I thought Bridgewater-Raritan had a little better of the play, but the kids fought hard all game and did well. We didn’t create too many chances for ourselves, but like I said, we had two mistakes in the early part of the game, and that hurt us. You can’t give mistakes to a good team like Bridgewater.”
"The girls played hard all season. We are a young and inexperienced team that improved each game," Ewing added. "With that youth the kids should be proud at their accomplishments this year finishing 14-5-1 with a very tough schedule is a very good season. Adding Union County championship is a bonus for the players."