CLARK, NJ — If there was any doubt about whether Scotch Plains-Fanwood would have a chance to play for its eighth consecutive Union County title this season, those uncertainties were put to rest quickly Sunday night.
Behind a first-half scoring onslaught and immense offensive pressure the entire game, the Raiders defeated Union by a score of 4-0 in the Union County Tournament (UCT) semifinals at A.L. Johnson High School to advance to the UCT finals. The Raiders will play Westfield for the title next weekend.
It didn’t take long for Scotch Plains-Fanwood to make known its intention to play for the championship. Ten minutes into the game, Danielle Mrozek finished a set piece sent from Ashley Vincent, and Kerri McNeely added two more scores — one on a penalty kick — in the Raiders’ three-goal first half. Corinne Light later added a goal in the 75th minute to seal the deal.
“It felt awesome to come out and score like that, especially since we lost to this team just last week,” McNeely told TAPinto.net. “We came out with a lot of energy today and we made sure we got on our marks, and marked correctly. Moving the ball — like 1-2 touch passes — really helped us.”
McNeely scored her first goal on a penalty kick in the 26th minute, after the Raiders were rewarded the kick as a result of hard contact initiated by a Union player. The senior chose the right place to aim the ball — perfectly in the lower left corner of the goal. Six minutes later, she won a physical battle with a Union defender in front of the goal and got enough on her strike to push it passed goalkeeper Caitlyn Finnerty.
“Coming out and scoring two goals in the first half felt really awesome,” said McNeely, “[especially] because I haven’t scored a goal since the Johnson game [last Saturday].”
The Raiders first got on the board early in the game when Ashley Vincent lined up from midfield to take a free kick. After Vincent’s boot bounced off of a few heads inside the box, Mrozek got a touch on it and put it past Finnerty, who came out of the box to stop the ball. Like slow-motion, Mrozek’s strike slowly rolled 15 yards before gently cushioning the bottom of the net.
Usually on the assisting end of goals, Mrozek scored for the first time since Sept. 14.
“We made a goal in the beginning of the game... It felt good to actually get that goal and actually be up one by then,” said Mrozek. “We definitely wanted to get a couple more in to completely get [Union] out of the game, but scoring the first goal of the game and scoring before they did was definitely a relief.”
The Raiders played nearly flawlessly. In addition to constant pressure on Union’s side, the Raiders played lock-down defense and held a potent Union attack to just six shots on goal.
“[We were successful] just by tough, aggressive soccer — the way Scotch Plains plays,” said SPF head coach Kevin Ewing. “The girls moved the ball well, just played well the entire game; a complete game by them.”
Corinne Lyght’s goal with five minutes to play put the cap on a statement victory. The freshman broke the Union backline, crossed up the keeper from outside the six-box, and effortlessly buried her strike in front of a wide open goal.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Maya Kessler posted her second shutout of the tournament on seven saves.
For the past seven years, Union County has belonged to Scotch Plains-Fanwood, and the Raiders will look to improve that number to eight next weekend. As the two-seed, they will take on one-seeded Westfield for the title, with date and location to be determined.
When asked about how the Raiders will prepare, McNeely shared the simple mindset of how the Raiders will prepare: “We’re going to keep doing what we’ve always been doing.”