CLARK, NJ — Two arch rivals walked out of the Union County Tournament (UCT) final with something to be happy about.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood won its eighth consecutive UCT championship and Westfield claimed its first title since 2012, as the teams played to a double-overtime 1-1 draw in a wild county final Saturday night at Arthur L. Johnson High School.
Westfield scored first and appeared destined to claim the title outright when Natalie Bond finished a set piece sent from Faith Dobosiewicz in the 51st minute. Pegged with the nearly impossible task of scoring on Westfield’s premier backline and only 29 minutes to do so, Scotch Plains-Fanwood drew a foul and made the most of it when Corinne Lyght scored on Ashley Vincent’s free kick with nine minutes left in regulation.
Lyght’s goal gave Scotch Plains-Fanwood at least a share of the UCT title for the eighth consecutive season. The two teams also played to a draw in 2012.
“I was so relieved and happy to be able to get the goal; it just felt so good to be able to help the team so that we could go into overtime,” Lyght told TAPinto.net. “Even though we didn’t win — like, win — it was still really nice to [score], because we could’ve easily lost.
“I was just trying to visualize myself getting to that ball, and when it came to and bounced a couple times, I knew I had to finish it to the back of the net,” the freshman added.
The Raiders’ dramatic equalizer came minutes after Westfield jumped out to a 1-0 lead following an initial 51-minute physical deadlock. 11 minutes into the second half, the Blue Devils sent Faith Dobosiewicz to boot a free kick after the team drew a foul from around 30 yards out. Dobosiewicz rocked a ball deep into the box and found teammate Natalie Bond.
The ball landed on Bond’s shinguard, and the senior was able to slide it inside the left post, past Raiders goalkeeper Maya Kessler.
“Scoring in the county finals on Faith Dobosiewicz’s perfect pass is just an amazing feeling and it really hyped us up,” said Bond. “Honestly, I’ve been on the team for four years and to just score against Scotch Plains any game is an incredible feeling — I’ve never gotten to experience it before because I’m usually in the back the last three years.”
A soccer match that ends in a 1-1 draw usually features an array of phenomenal game-saving stops by goalkeepers on each side. This was the case Saturday and was often seen in the second half and overtime. For Westfield, Caitlin Amman also up clutch on numerous occasions. Most notably, the first-year starter saved an Erika Muskus point-blank header two minutes into overtime. Amman recorded seven total stops.
“Caitlin’s amazing. To follow Lizzie Brucia from last year, with all the pressure, and Caitlin is just so focused; she’s got so much grit,” Westfield head coach Eric Schmidt said. “She doesn’t get phased, she’s grown so much this year as a player and person, and we get her again next year, which I’m excited about.
The Raiders’ Kessler also came up huge when it mattered. She preserved the tie by making a diving stop in the 4th minute of overtime, and used all of her vertical leap to stop Katie Butler’s breakaway attempt late in the second half.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood had great run of play in the first half and had multiple chances to jump ahead early on. On three separate occasions, Kerri McNeely broke free and send crosses from the left side of the field, but each time the Raiders couldn’t capitalize. In the 27th minute, Lyght received a through-ball from McNeely and streaked down the field with the goal in her sights, but Amman hustled out of the box to stop Lyght.
“The first half was not a great half for us,” said Schmidt. “We talked at halftime: ‘Let’s just press a little bit, find some passes.’ I think the first 25 [in the second half], we looked really good. Got one off pressure, and to get one put in when we’ve been so good in the back.”
While Saturday's game ends the regular season portion of the schedule for the Raiders and Blue Devils, the two rivals know a fourth match in 2017 is real possibility. In the state tournament — which begins Monday — one-seeded Westfield and four-seeded Scotch Plains can meetup in the sectional semifinals — and that game can't end in a tie. Both squads would need to win their first two matches to meet.
Until then, they can both celebrate the title of Union County Champions.