SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD -- A team in search of a statement victory, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood girls’ soccer team delivered just that Thursday afternoon. Led by Erika Muskus’ first career hat trick, the Raiders took down defending state champion Hunterdon Central by a score of 5-2 in a final tune-up before beginning county tournament play this weekend.
In a match featuring an abundance of scoring, Muskus wasted no time beginning her career afternoon. In the second minute of the game, she got her head on a cross sent by Danielle Mrozek and directed it between the posts. Later in the first half, Muskus, who will play at Gettysburg College next fall, buried an unassisted strike from 30 yards out to give the Raiders a commanding 3-1 lead entering halftime.
The senior capped a successful afternoon for the Raiders late in the second half, when she scored on a pass sent by Kerri McNeely to give Scotch Plains-Fanwood the 5-2 lead that would prove to win the game.
“I knew that with their [Hunterdon Central's] formation, I was going to be open a lot,” Muskus told TAPinto.net. “Scoring five goals is one of the most in a game we’ve had all season against a good team like this. It feels good to come out — especially with counties starting — and get five goals in the net.”
Muskus’ first goal began a wild four-minute scoring sequence. Hunterdon Central struck right back to equalize the score at one just two minutes later on Lillianna Gemma’s unassisted goal. But Scotch Plains-Fanwood reclaimed the lead for good in the sixth minute, when Corinne Lyght scored on a cross sent by McNeely.
“Last year when we played this team, it was a 1-1 game — a really tough game,” McNeely said. “Coming into this game today, we knew we had to put everything we had into this game, and heading into the state and county tournament, we needed to have momentum with a big win. To get it against this tough team felt really good.”
After helping others score, McNeely added a goal of her own in 17th minute of the second half. The forward was assisted by Muskus, who sent a through ball that McNeely finished after eluding multiple Hunterdon Central defenders. McNeely and Muskus are now tied at 10 for the team lead in goals.
“Today was very impressive,” Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Kevin Ewing said. “We’ve been talking about playing a complete game, and they came pretty close to doing that today. Talked about moving the ball quicker, and they did that; when you do that, you create opportunities for yourself.”
Not only were the Raiders able to dominate on on offense, they were also able to control the game on the defensive side of the ball. Scotch Plains-Fanwood limited the Red Devils of Hunterdon Central to just four shots-on-goal, while the Raiders accumulated 14.
Defeating perennial powerhouse Hunterdon Central by such a wide margin was certainly a statement for the Raiders, especially after the team lost only its second game of the season to Westfield last Saturday. With the Raiders beginning the county tournament on Saturday, the win can prove to be a huge kick-start.
“The girls realize that they need to step up their game, and that’s what they did today,” Ewing said. “Hunterdon Central is always very good — they’re very good this year — we just played very well and that’s why the score is what it is. Playing a team like Hunterdon Central prepares you for the counties and states.”
While Thursday’s game featured two Group 4 superpowers, if the Raiders and Red Devils meet again this season, the game would have massive implications. In the state tournament, Scotch Plains-Fanwood competes in North Section 2, while Hunterdon Central plays in the Central section, meaning a re-match would only happen in the state final.
But before Scotch Plains-Fanwood thinks about the postseason, the Raiders will look to build of the momentum created on Saturday, playing host to A.L. Johnson (Clark) in the Union County Tournament quarterfinal round at 11 a.m.