SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD -- You couldn't write a better script for an Opening Day win.
Freshman Corinne Lyght scored a goal seconds into her varsity debut, and senior Kerri McNeely, playing in her final season opener, netted the game-winning goal, as the Scotch Plains-Fanwood girls’ soccer team defeated Morristown, 2-1, Thursday afternoon.
With the score tied at one and just over 20 minutes left to play, the Raiders’ Danielle Mrozek took control of the ball near the middle of the field. The senior midfielder sent a cross through two Morristown defenders, finding the foot of classmate McNeely, who ran through and open path.
One of the state’s premier forwards, McNeely took the ball on the left side of the goal inside the box, dribbled closer to center and lifted a shot that soared above the goalie and sunk just before the crossbar, hitting the back of the net and giving Scotch Plains what proved to be the winning score.
“I saw an open pathway, and Danielle Mrozek crossed it right through the two defenders, so I had a wide-open shot,” said McNeely. “We never stopped — we just kept going at them — and we eventually did get the goal, which boosted our confidence again.”
While McNeely is entering her third varsity season with 29 career goals, on the other side of the Raiders’ starting front line Thursday was Lyght, a varsity starter as a freshman.
And in a sequence almost too unbelievable to be true, Lyght, 20 seconds into the game, provided the Raiders with a 1-0 lead.
Making her first varsity start in her first varsity game, Lyght found the ball at her feet on a breakaway. Weaving through the Morristown defense, she fired a ball right inside the box that soared past Morristown goalie Sarah Wilson and met the blue netting inside the goal.
“I was just so happy to be able to get a goal — it meant that all my hard work has payed off,” Lyght said. “It was just nice to be able to get the goal to start the momentum, and to be able to win the game.”
The goal did more than just put the Raiders on the board. As expected, Lyght acknowledged that she was a bit nervous to start her first game at the highest level of high school soccer.
But that all changed after her storybook goal: “Scoring the goal helped me gain more confidence. When I was playing, I was not as nervous on the ball at all,” she said.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, Lyght’s goal was equalized by Morristown early in the second half. The Colonials’ Holly Burns controlled the ball from about 30 yards out, broke the Raiders’ defense and fired off a rocket that eluded Raiders’ goalie Maya Kessler.
Despite allowing the goal, Kessler, a sophomore, notched three saves on the afternoon, including one game-saver. With under 20 minutes to play, Kessler dived to stop Morgan O’Neil, who was storming towards the goal without any Raider defenders close by.
With momentum running high from the exhilarating season-opening win, the Raiders now prepare for a showdown with heated rival, powerhouse Westfield, slated for Saturday.
“We’re so excited [for Saturday], I can’t put it into words,” McNeely said. “That’s the game that we’re hyped about.”