SUMMIT, NJ - Sports cliché #1,683 says, "It is really difficult to beat a team three times in one season," which, if you play, say major league baseball, is a massive non sequitur, but we digress.
For the Summit High School Boys Varsity Soccer Team, the well-worn adage was definitely in play -- in both thought and practice -- when the Maroon and White took to the Tatlock Park pitch to take on Plainfield in the Union County Tournament quarterfinals. Especially so after The 'Top had just played -- and defeated -- the Cardinals for the second time this season 40-some hours earlier on the exact same rectangle of synthetic turf.
So, most prep soccer aficionados expected a close, scrappy tilt -- and that is just what they got. While Summit had the upper-hand in the possession battle, Plainfield had a slight edge in chances but it was the decisive moment -- a second -half penalty kick -- that went the way of the home team.
In that moment, Summit senior Owen Healy converted the spot kick, a goal which proved to be enough and lifted the Hilltoppers past the Cardinals 1-0 and into the Union County Semifinals.
There, on October 19 at AL Johnson High School, second-seeded Summit will face third-seeded Westfield. Match time, while not yet set, will likely be 5:30 p.m.
Versus the Cardinals, Summit controlled the match in the opening 40 minutes but was not able to connect in the final third of the pitch to create a clear-cut chance at goal. The best chance of the half fell to Plainfield against the run of play, and it came with Summit's starting goalkeeper on the sidelines.
After receiving a yellow card for dissent, senior captain Jake Maslin -- as per the rules -- was forced to exit the pitch. During his absence, Plainfield earned a corner kick which, when taken, was lasered into the Hilltopper penalty are and subsequentlt headed on goal from seven-yards out. Summit senior Austin Dooley, who had replaced Maslin, leaped high to his right to paw the ball over the top of the bar. Dooley's deflection is the type of play that doesn't make it into the boxscore but proves pivotal in win-or-go-home matches.
The second half essentially resembled the first with both sides sensing that one goal may decide things. Maslin was forced to make a carbon-copy of Dooley's daredevilry and Plainfield seemed to be poised for a break through as they enjoyed several very dangerous free kicks, however each was off the mark and did not force Maslin to make a save.
Thirteen-minutes into the final forty, Healy coolly sent the 'Keeper the other way and converted the PK into the bottom left corner. The home side was then was able to do enough to see out the final 20-plus minutes without incident.
Prior to taking on Westfield in the UCT semis Summit, now 10-4-1 on the season, will take on -- wait for it -- Westfield on October 15. The match serves as the Hilltoppers' 'Senior Night', and will be kick-off on the Summit High School Upper Turf Field at 7 p.m.