Claire Manning is swarmed by teammates after her game-winning goal with 1:37 left in the second OT of their NJSIAA semifinal win over Ridgewood on Nov. 19.

by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Mounties girls soccer team has had some tough games and close calls this season, but none had as much on the line as Friday’s NJSIAA North East E, Semifinal game against No. 4 seeded Ridgewood on Friday, Nov. 20.

At the end of 98 minutes and 63 seconds though, MHS senior captain Claire Manning broke through the Maroon defense, and put the ball past goalie Paisley Tornatore to give Montclair the victory and send them to the finals.

Montclair will now face the second seeded Livingston Lancers in a repeat of the 2019 Essex County Tournament final, which MHS won in penalty kicks. The game will take place on Saturday, at Fortunato Field with kickoff at noon.

Only immediate family members will be allowed in the stands, but the game can be watched on a livestream here.

As for her goal, Manning said she was still processing the moment.

“It’s all kind of a blur right now,” Manning said after the game. “I’m pretty sure Sonia [Neighbors] drove in. She passed it across and I saw the two defenders coming at me, so I took it with my right foot. Then the goalie came out, so I took a touch with my left foot and shot it in the bottom right corner.”

The Mounties had many chances throughout the game to get one by Tornatore, but the tough Ridgewood defense stepped up time and again to disrupt Montclair’s attacks.

Manning gashed the defense on her goal, weaving her way through several defenders before unleashing her shot, finding an extra burst of energy while the Maroon defenders flagged.

Manning said that when Ridgewood was jamming up their passing lanes and harassing them when they were trying to dribble, the Mounties remained focused.

“We’ve been working so hard ever since the ever since the end of the summer and everyone here works hard, every practice, every game,” she said. “We stayed tough and we never got sloppy. I think that’s due to the way we trained through pre-season and we just knew that we can never take it easy.”

MHS’ Emily Crane collides with a Ridgewood player during Montclair’s 1-0 win in the NJSIAA semifinals on Nov. 19. Ridgewood played a very tight, physical game against the Mounties.

Head coach Ashley Hammond was at a loss for words after the win and was impressed with his team.

“I’m so proud of all of them,” he said. “That was a team effort, truthfully. That was an amazing effort by all of them from Molly [Brumbach], down to the defense, the left back and right back. It was a great effort.”

Hammond was especially happy with the poise and effort of his captains, particularly Manning.

“She’s so special,” he said. “And you know, we always talk about “go sort it out, girl, just go solve the problems we have.” And she does, all the time and it’s just amazing.”

Hammond knows that Sunday’s game will be just as tough as this game, if not even more difficult.

MHS goalie Molly Brumbach didn’t see a ton of action against Ridgewood during the Mounties’ 1-0 double OT win on Nov. 19, but she came up big with the few saves she had to make.

“Just a war. It’s going to be great, I’m so excited to be in it,” Hammond said. “You know, having Livingston here for [what will be] most of these girls’ final game of their high school  career, starting 6 seniors? I couldn’t script to any better. I love Brian [Carr] over at Livingston, he’s a great guy. The girls at Livingston are excellent, it’s going to be fantastic.”

Manning said being able to finish a high school career on their home field is a special feeling for the seniors.

“We’ve worked on this field for four years now and we’ve put our blood, sweat and tears on this field,” she said. “And to have the state final on our field is an incredible feeling, because we know we’ll have our town behind us supporting us every minute.”

Hammond said the town support despite the pandemic has been huge, and the team will need it again this Sunday.

“We need all the support we can get on the fences,” he said. “So hopefully people will come out and scream through the fences for us.”

MHS coach Ashley Hammond praised the fans for their support and said they will need them again on Sunday when they face Livingston in the NJSIAA North East E finals on Sunday, Nov. 22.