WESTFIELD, NJ -- Soccer can be a heartbreaking game sometimes.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood girls’ soccer team appeared destined to reach its second consecutive sectional final when it became the first team to take a lead on Westfield all season in Monday’s NJSIAA sectional semifinal. But the Raiders’ 2-1 halftime lead wasn’t enough, and Westfield rallied for two unanswered goals in the second half to end the Raiders’ season.
Natalie Bond scored the game-winner for Westfield off of a set piece, which severed a 2-2 tie in the 74th minute. Grace Elliott equalized the score just 22 minutes earlier, which erased the effect of a two-goal eruption in the first half from Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
“We have a lot of upperclassmen, and they showed they can battle back in games before,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Kevin Ewing. “We were able to do that today, but unfortunately, luck wasn’t on our side at the end.”
Westfield’s second-half rally stopped the Raiders’ bid to outright beat their arch rivals for the first time all year.
After the Lady Blue Devils struck first, the Raiders launched a scoring attack that not many could’ve expected -- after all, in three previous meetings, the two powerhouse teams combined for just four total goals.
The Raiders became the first team to claim a lead on Westfield all season when Kerri McNeely scored in the 32nd minute. McNeely redirected a cross sent from Corinne Lyght, who came streaking down the left flank and sent a perfect pass to the team’s leading goal-scorer.
McNeely’s goal came after Sabrina DiLollo equalized the score at one 23 minutes in. DiLollo scored on a header, which was the finishing result of a Lyght free kick; Lyght’s shot hit the crossbar and DiLollo headed the rebound between the posts.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood had scored just one goal in through its first three matches against Westfield prior to Monday.
“We looked to posses more. We talked about that more the last couple of days in practice, because we didn’t do that the first few times around when we played [Westfield],” Ewing said about his team’s strong offensive showing. “We did that, but just came up a little short today.”
The Raiders had Westfield in uncharted territory at halftime, but the Lady Blue Devils remained calm and turned the tides in the final 40 minutes.
After Westfield had come back to eliminate the one-goal deficit, Natalie Bond completed the rally with her 74th minute heroics. Vying for the ball sent on Josie Greenwood’s corner kick, Bond muscled her way through a physical scrum of players inside the six box and slid the ball with just enough velocity to elude Raiders keeper Maya Kessler and roll to the back of the net, giving the Blue Devils the goal that proved to win.
“We knew we had this game,” Bond said. “This game was all about team effort. We came back from a 2-1 deficit, and we hadn’t gone down all year. That just showed our team grit and willingness of our team to win.”
Grace Elliott’s equalizer in the 52nd minute started Westfield’s comeback. Elliott capped off a successful set piece by finishing a pass sent from up top sent by Greenwood, then lifting her strike above Kessler, who vacated the goal to try and stop the ball.
“We haven’t been down all year, so how we responded was really going to test us,” said Elliott. “I knew we were going to pull through and get the couple goals we needed.”
Natalie Bond also scored Westfield’s first goal of the match, which came in the eighth minute. Similar to her game-winner, Bond scored on the receiving end of a corner kick.
The outcome could’ve been brighter for the Raiders, had some additional shots found the net. DiLollo nearly had two goals in the match, but her 15th minute boot from 40 yards out was stopped by Caitlyn Amman. McNeely almost buried a desperation kick from 35 out in the last minute, but Amman also scooped that up.
Monday’s thriller ends the season for Scotch Plains-Fanwood. The Raiders finish with a record of 15-4-1 and own a share of the Union County Tournament championship. Thirteen seniors partook in their final game as a Raider Monday.