by Andrew Garda
MILLBURN — Wednesday night was a big one for local soccer teams from Montclair High and Montclair Kimberley Academy, as three of them battled for a chance to make it to the finals of the Essex County Tournament.
However, the two higher seeded teams — the MHS boys and girls soccer teams — were sent home early with losses while the underdog MKA Cougars girls squad made the finals for the first time ever under second year head coach Christie Welsh.
Welsh’s Cougars punched their ticket with four goals on penalty kicks and a key Arianna Jobst save after two scoreless overtime periods and 80 exhausting minutes of top-shelf soccer which ended in a 2-2 tie.
MKA couldn’t have done it without Kerri McGuire, who two times brought the team back from a deficit with timely goals. The first came at 30:16 in the first half, less than two minutes after West Orange had scored.
McGuire flew down the field with the ball, then sent a left-footed shot towards the net from just inside the penalty box. The ball arced just over the outstretched hand of Lancer goalie Samantha Herbert and into the net.
The relentless McGuire would score again in the second half with 17:50 left to go in the game to tie the two teams up one more time.
She was everywhere, whether fighting for a rebound in front of the Lancer net or sprinting down the sideline to get a ball off the opening kickoff for the first of the two overtimes.
McGuire was not to be denied.
“You have a special player in Kerri McGuire,” Welsh said after the win. “We got scored on and she said “Nope, that’s not going to happen.” Then she turned around and scored two fantastic goals to put us back in it…She’s kept us in many games, she’s won many games for us.”
McGuire was not the only one working hard. MKA has a very thin bench, and Welsh subbed minimally throughout the game. And yet, the team never looked gassed, always finding a way to get just a little more out of their tired bodies.
When there was a hiccup though, Jobst was there to bail her team out and when it was time for penalty shots to decide who would see Livingston in the finals, she once again came up big, saving two of the four shots she faced as her team scored on four straight attempts.
“I had a conversation with her,” Welsh said. “And I said the expectation is not on you. If you come up with anything, it’s a bonus. The pressure falls on the shooter. I said if you can come up with one, it’d be amazing. And for her to come up with two…I know she’s pumped.”
While Jobst was shutting down the Lancer shooters, her teammates were blasting the Livingston keeper.
Jaime Fuchs, Claire Sharbough, Rylie Frieder, McGuire and Alexis Riley were the five shooters Welsh named. After Jobst saved the first shot with a spectacular diving save, Riley scored on her attempt. The McGuire scored again, followed by Riley.
West Orange got their second goal, but that didn’t matter as Sharbough scored, sending the Cougars to the ECT finals.
Now MKA has a few days to regroup and get ready for Livingston and a chance for their first ever ECT title. The final will take place at Caldwell on Saturday, October 28 at 7:30pm.
The Montclair boys team entered Wednesday’s game as the favorite over No. 3 seed Millburn, and knew they would have a battle on their hands.
The two sides went back and forth all evening, trading control of the lead until Millburn’s Matt Jordan beat keeper Rowan O’Brien on an indirect free kick with less than two minutes left in regulation.
The Mounties offense kept fighting, but were unable to convert in the closing moments on a free kick by Jalen Anderson.
Montclair saw Anderson score twice earlier in the game, along with Salvador Pliego, Phillip Cubeddu, Azarius Dordoni and Ethan Schwartz had assists. O’Brien made eight saves on the night
The Mounties now have to reboot and get ready for the NJSIAA North 1, Group 4 bracket where they are the No. 3 seed and will face No. 14 seed Hackensack at Fortunato Field on Halloween.
The No. 2 seed MHS girls soccer team entered the ECT semifinal game against No. 3 seed Livingston after a hard-fought win over Mount St. Dominic on Saturday, October 21.
While they had beaten Livingston earlier this season on September 7, the Mounties had won in regulation by a score of 3-2. It had been the very first game they had played, and neither team was quite the same as they were back then.
The Mounties played a tough game, trading goals in the first half. MHS’ score came via Sydney Masur off a beautiful pass by Becca Van Siclen. Throughout the first half, keeper Amelia Platt kept her team in it, making numerous big saves and breaking up some plays by sliding into the ball before a shot.
The second half began and the Mounties pressured Livingston, but weren’t consistently turning those into scoring chances. The ones they did — like a near-repeat of the Van Siclen-Masur goal from the first half —they weren’t quite able to finish.
Then, with 21:44 left, Platt made a tremendous save, but produced a rebound. Her defenders were unable to clear it and Livingston scored on the second chance.
Many of the Mounties seemed rattled by that and the crisp passing and smart play of the proceeding 60 minutes of soccer seemed to disappear, replaced by unforced errors and sloppy play. The veterans tried to keep their team on point, but as the second ticked away, the Mounties seemed less able to string passes together. While they had a few strong scoring opportunities, ultimately the Lancers defense or goaltender would step up and spoil it.
As with the boys, the Mounties now need to focus on the NJSIAA Tournament, where they captured the 1-seed in the North 1, Group 4 bracket and will play No. 16 Hackensack on October 30.