UNION — Though playing in a state final is new territory for Scotch Plains-Fanwood, most of the ambiance of Saturday’s championship will be familiar for the Raiders, who are now just one win away from winning the first state championship in program history.
While the Raiders (18-2-2) have never made it this far, they will be both playing in a stadium and against a team that they have seen copious amounts of times over the years as they look to claim the state Group 4 title Saturday afternoon. The venue? Kean University’s Alumni Stadium; the pitch in which Scotch Plains-Fanwood has won so many Union County Tournament titles over the years. The opponent? Hunterdon Central (20-1-1), whom the Raiders play during the regular season every year for quite some time now.
So when the starting whistle blows at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, the Raiders will not be in uncharted waters.
TAPintoSPF will be on hand for complete coverage during and after the game.
Hunterdon Central At a Glance
Hunterdon Central shocked the nation on Wednesday when it upset the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Eastern, 1-0, in the South/Central Group 4 state semifinal. The Red Devils might not have been the top team in the land coming into that match, but are currently ranked No. 28 in the nation and are likely to move up after that victory. Hunterdon Central is a team loaded with Division I talent and has been to state championships before; most recently in 2016 when it defeated Ridge to win the Group 4 title.
Emily Mason, a Rutgers commit, scored the lone goal in the Red Devils’ victory Wednesday. Mason is normally a defender, though, and helps anchor down an elite backline that has posted a staggering 15 shutouts this season, including a streak of eight consecutive midway through the season. Many of those shutouts can be attributed to the play of keeper Lindsay Dewar, a Lafayette commit.
The Red Devils are equally dangerous on offense. Corinna Zullo, a South Carolina commit, and Lilliana Gemma, a Navy commit, headline the explosive attack that has scored an average of three goals-per-game this fall. That attack scored a combined 15 goals during the first three games of the sectional tournament, before scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Manalapan in the sectional final.
Twenty-nine days ago from Saturday, the Raiders and Red Devils met in a Union County-Skyland Conference crossover clash in Flemington. The two teams battled for 80 minutes of regulation to no score, before Gemma slotted the golden-goal during the first overtime.
Tightly-contested matches like that have become the norm between these two squads over the years. Hunterdon Central also won in a 2018 match, 2-1, and the two teams played to a draw during the Red Devils’ state championship 2016 campaign. The outlier came in 2017, when Scotch Plains-Fanwood came away with a signature victory, 5-2. A significant footprint of this year’s Raider team contributed to that 2017 victory, which saw Corinne Lyght score a goal and Maya Kessler come away with a pair of saves for the win between the pipes.
Raiders on a Roll
It’s undeniable that Hunterdon Central is in a groove, but it’s hard to find a team that has been on a better roll than Scotch Plains-Fanwood as of late. After the Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s PK loss to Westfield in the Union County Tournament semifinal, ending its nine-year hold on the UCT title, the Raiders have been on a mission to still deliver hardware back to the school. They already accomplished part of that by winning the North 2, Group 4 sectional title by out-scoring all four opponents — Perth Amboy, Watching Hills, Westfield, and Bridgewater-Raritan — by a combined score of 16-0.
The Raiders then allowed their first goal of the state tournament during the second half against Montclair to fall behind, 1-0, in Wednesday’s semifinal. That hardly derailed them, though, as Corinne Lyght and Leah Klurman scored during the final 10:16 of play to deliver the dramatic comeback victory.
Lyght and Klurman are two of the most dynamic players in the state and if Scotch Plains-Fanwood wins Saturday, it’s hard to imagine that those two won’t be a major reason of why. However, against an explosive attack like Hunterdon Central, the Raiders will also need full contributions from everyone defensively. Keys to the Raiders’ defense are keeper Maya Kessler (12 shutouts) and a backline that features Gabby Aloe, Ashley DeFrancesco, Sarah Dill, and Katarina Zikas.
Offensively, the Raiders have a host of other playmakers aside from Lyght and Klurman. Faith Price, Holly Nelson, Lizzie Ley, Brooke Klurman, Alexa Fazio, Rachel Schoss, and Gia Milano are just some of a large number of contributors to an offense that has averaged 3.1 goals-per-game.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood 2, Hunterdon Central 1 (2OT)