SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — A lot can change in two weeks. Just ask the girls on the Scotch Plains-Fanwood soccer team.
Westfield might have ended Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s nine-year hold on the Union County title back on Oct. 21, but 14 days later, it’s the Raiders who have the last laugh.
Any pain from the Raiders’ Union County Tournament semifinal penalty kick loss against their archrival was quickly washed away, as Scotch Plains-Fanwood unleashed a scoring barrage. The team played its best game of the season to extract revenge and advance to the North 2, Group 4 Sectional final with a 4-0 blowout of Westfield Monday afternoon.
The Raiders scored three goals within the first 36 minutes and never looked back, breezing past a powerhouse Westfield team that they were playing for the fourth time this fall.
Leah Klurman scored twice while Lizzie Ley scored a goal and dished out an assist on a corner that Faith Price finished to round out the scoring for the Raiders, who dominated wire-to-wire and outshot the Blue Devils, 16-4.
Maya Kessler came up with two saves in net for the shutout, while Corinne Lyght and Giorgi Vacca added assists for the Raiders, who have now out-scored opponents, 14-0, through the first three rounds of the Sectional tournament.
"It was pretty amazing; we took our anger out on them pretty well," Klurman said. "They took our nine-peat away from us in PKs, which is a really bad feeling. I just think we finished well and did what we needed to do."
That penalty kick defeat against Westfield exactly two weeks ago was painful, but also gave Scotch Plains-Fanwood even more motivation entering this match on Monday. The Raiders have continuously shown to be one of the best teams in the state this season and are poised to prove it by winning some hardware. They will now get a crack to do so at home in the sectional final on Thursday, taking on defending Sectional champ and No. 4-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan, which upset No. 1 North Hunterdon.
And, just like there was on Monday, there’s some extra motivation for the Raiders in that one, too: Bridgewater-Raritan knocked Scotch Plains-Fanwood out of the State tournament in the Sectional semis last fall. But this is a vastly improved Raiders squad from then, and if Monday’s total domination over a premier team is any indicator, the sky is the limit for the girls right now.
"We're cautiously optimistic," said Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Kevin Ewing. "Bridgewater-Raritan is next and they’re always good. We just have to be ready for them."
Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s first goal was a thing of beauty, and the next three to follow seemingly topped each other.
Just eight minutes into the match, Ley came down into the Raiders’ offensive zone and played a quick pass to Lyght, who tapped it right back to an open Ley, who then shot and scored to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead that only kept growing. The execution on the play was textbook, and set the tone for the Raiders' offense to explode throughout the afternoon.
"It started in the back, and the kids — they’ve been moving the ball like that all year," Ewing of how that play developed. "We just had to finish, and they did — it was great." (Story continues below video.)
The Raiders made it 2-0 when she played in a set piece from the right side that would bounce around for a while, allowing her enough time to get back in the center, crash the box, and slot the ball past the keeper and into the back of the net with 10:33 left in the first half. Just seven minutes later, Price jumped to get her head on a Ley corner just outside the box and sent the ball right to the blue twine to make it 3-0 before the half was even over.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood had walked away from the pitch at Johnson H.S. after the County semifinal loss to Westfield in PKs upset, knowing that it had opportunities to put the game away but didn't capitalize. But on Nov. 4, they made sure to finish those chances, and the end result couldn't be better for the Raiders.
"All year, we’ve been talking about finishing our opportunities -- the opportunities arose, and we finished those chances," Ewing said of the Raiders' scintillating first half. "They were really disappointed [after losing to Westfield in PKs]. We had chances to win that game and didn’t take advantage. Westfield played really well when we played them in the county semifinals, and the kids were really excited to get out and play them again."
Klurman would add another dazzling goal with 4:17 left in the game, taking a feed from Vacca near midfield and burying a deep-range strike just below the crossbar to make it 4-0.
Just a sophomore, Klurman is as dynamic of a player as the Raiders have and can make an impact from anywhere on the field. For most of the season, she helped hold down the Raiders' dominant back line, but played more out of the midfield and up top Monday, adding a whole new dimension to the team's stout scoring ability.
"It’s important to step up in these big games and finish," Klurman said. "Our center mid got hurt, so I needed to play a new position and do what I did to just help the team finish."
"She’s one of the best players around," Ewing said. "She doesn’t get a lot of press because she plays defense, but she’s a dynamic player. She makes things happen."
Perhaps lost in all the offensive talk was how Scotch Plains' back line was able to shut down a potent Westfield offense, which, as the Raiders know all too well, is always capable of producing the big goals late in matches just when you think the game is over.
But that would not be the case this time, as the Raiders clicked on all cylinders to deliver their most complete effort in their most complete game of the season to date.
"I just think we need to play like how we can and not worry about how they play," Klurman said. "They have Faith [Dobosiewcz] who’s a big time player for them, and I just think it’s important to know who their big players are. I think we shut them down pretty well."
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