LIVINGSTON, NJ -- Junior forward Emma Mitchell scored two goals and West Orange held off a late charge by Livingston to come away with a 4-2 girls soccer victory in the pouring rain Wednesday night.
The meeting was the first between the two programs since West Orange defeated Livingston in the 2018 Section 1, Group 4 final. The way both teams played Wednesday night in difficult conditions, there's a reasonable likelihood of them meeting again in the latter rounds of either the Essex County or the state tournaments.
West Orange (8-2) built a 3-0 lead by early in the second half, then had to withstand a furious run by the Lancers (8-2), who got off the mat to dominate the action in the Mountaineer end for much of the second half, closing to within 3-2 before Mitchell's second goal with 4:26 left gave West Orange some breathing room.
"Livingston came back and played really hard," said West Orange head coach Sean Devore. "But we played through it and held on. That was a real character moment for us. Livingston came at us in the second half wave after wave."
Mitchell gave West Orange a 1-0 lead just four minutes into the game on a throw-in from sophomore forward Kiley Capstraw.
"That first goal happened so quickly on Kiley's throw-in, and I didn't even see it go in because I fell in the ground after the shot," Mitchell said.
That was the only goal for either team in a first half that was contested in much better weather than the second half. Four minutes into the second half, Capstraw scored from inside the box for a 2-0 lead off a corner kick from senior midfielder Natalie Nevins, who initiated the set piece from the right corner.
Just two minutes after that goal, another corner kick from Nevins, also from the right side, found junior midfielder Kaya Schultz, who headed the ball into the net from out front for a 3-0 lead just six minutes into the second half.
"We pride ourselves on our set pieces," Devore said. "We work on them every day. We feel like we can go up against anybody on our set pieces."
"Set pieces are our main scoring point," Mitchell said. "It's what we really have faith in."
Many soccer games would be just about over after a 3-0 lead early in the second half, but not this one. As the rains became more torrential, Livingston's attack gained steam. The Lancers narrowly missed two scoring opportunities in the next 10 minutes, one stopped by a great diving save by West Orange goalie Cassidy Joyce (one of her eight saves), and the other on a straight-on attempt that hit the crossbar with 24 minutes left.
Livingston finally got on the scoreboard when Kayla Parsons one-timed a right-footed shot from 20 yards out with an assist by Lauren Belcuore with 20 minutes left to cut the West Orange lead to 3-1.
Less than two minutes later, the Lancers scored again, with Belcuore finding the back of the net from inside the box after taking a pass from Karina Malhotra to cut it to 3-2 with 18:40 left.
With the bulk of the second-half action occurring in the West Orange end, it stayed a 3-2 game until Mitchell found herself in a one-on-one breakaway and sent it home for a 4-2 lead with 4:26 remaining. Nevins provided her third assist of the game on that goal.
"We're playing much better now than we were a month ago," said Mitchell of West Orange, a team that came into the season nationally ranked before losing its opening game. "We are all connecting on the field now. This team loves to play together."