SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ - Probably the best commentary that speaks to the continued ascension of the Summit High School Boys Varsity Soccer Team is that their season opening win at Scotch Plains-Fanwood (SP-F) should not be considered a titanic upset.
That doesn't mean the Maroon and White's 1-nil victory over the Raiders on the south side of Route 22 isn't a massive victory -- beating an elite opponent on their pitch, by definition, is just that -- but other than, perhaps, die-hard SP-F faithful or media and pundits that only catch a stray match and pay disproportionate attention to pedigree over performance, no sage soccer observer should believe this to be a seismic stunner.
While Summit had yet to knock off the Raiders, this result has been steadily coming -- mirroring the Hilltoppers climb up the soccer ladder -- for a few a years now.
Eyebrow raising? Sure. Attention getter? You betcha. 'Stop the presses'? Not so much.
However, and make no mistake about it either, Summit needed a 10-bell performance from senior goalkeeper James Ford to get the 'W'. Thankfully for supporters of the boys from the 07901 they got that, as well as an early first-half goal from captain Michael Greenstein that Summit was able to make stand.
On a 90-degree day, the season got underway and, soon after the opening whistle, another tweet from the referee sounded alarm bells, as Ford charged out of his area and was judged to have fouled an onrushing Raider just a few yards outside the penalty area. The yellow card came out and Ford was forced off until the next whistle.
On came Preston Coke-Corkern to face a dangerous free kick from 20 yards out. Fortunately for Summit the attempt went over the top of the bar, and the let-off seemed to invigorate the visitors. Looking the livelier side in the middle of the park, Summit was winning most of the 50-50 balls, and soon one of those turned into joy for the Hilltoppers.
In the seventh minute, Greenstein won a header in on the SP-F side of the center circle. The ball then found its way to Delmar Argenal on the right side and he laced a 30-yard cross to the back post where Javier Del Cid rose up to nod the ball back across the face of goal. Greenstein, who had made a 35-yard run to just inside the penalty spot, got his noggin on Del Cid's knock back and pegged it past SP-F 'keeper Aaron Schack. Summit had the all important first goal, but there were still 73 minutes to go.
One of those minutes -- the 20th -- saw Ford earn legend points with two back-to-back, highlight reel stops. After surrendering a set-piece from the right side, the Hilltoppers made a hash out of the clearance of the ensuing free-kick, the ball ping-ponging around in the area and falling to Raider Brogan Quigley five yards out. The point blank shot was blunted by Ford's left hand, but Summit still couldn't get the ball out of harm's way.
As the frenzy continued, the ball came out to the top of the area and a laser by SP-F's Ryan Widman from 18-yards was somehow parried away by Ford, who was at full-stretch to his left and somehow found a way to pick up the rocket through a sea of legs and bodies and get a paw on it.
Other than those 30 seconds of agony, Summit played virtually a perfect 'road half', admittedly not creating much in the way of opportunities themselves but calmly keeping the home side's pressure to a manageable minimum.
The first 10-15 minutes of the second half pretty much resembled the first 40 minutes, although SP-F look a bit brighter. Slowly, however, Summit began to sit deeper in their own defensive end. For the next 15 minutes, the Hilltoppers looked a bit slow and reactive and, while more Ford heroics were not necessary, Summit was inviting trouble by letting their opponent -- let alone a team of SP-F's caliber -- have so much of the ball so deep in their defensive third.
Inside the final 10 minutes, the Hilltoppers seemed to mentally get a glimpse of the finish line and upped their game. Pushing out a bit higher, the danger lessened, and they were able to get the long-sought-after result without much incident.
Post-match, Sularz acknowledged the importance of the evolutionary win. "You have to get results against the big teams to get to the next level. A win like this will give our team confidence and good feelings when we take on other top teams, like a Westfield, down the road and during tournament play."
Commented on Ford's performance, Sularz said, "James was tremendous. The second save in the first-half sequence is one of the best saves I have ever seen a high school goalkeeper make. I thought we did a good job defensively and limited their chances, but James was the difference today."
Summit (1-0 on the season) next returns to Tatlock Park September 7 for their home opener versus Governor Livingston. The match kicks off at 4 p.m.
TAPinto Summit 'Man of the Match' - James Ford