Going up against the Bridgewater-Raritan High School girls soccer team, two things have been a near certainty — the Panthers boast the area’s stingiest defensive unit, anchored by, arguably, the state’s best keeper, and Bridgewater-Raritan isn’t always able to locate the back of the net, especially against top opponents.
Only one of those things changed Saturday in the semifinals of the Somerset County Tournament.
Senior Jessica Schwed scored the only goal the Panthers would need, 6:18 into the game, and sophomore Abigail Ousoulijoglou added an insurance goal with 14:55 left, as second-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan earned its first trip to the final since 2002 with a 2-0 victory over third-seeded and two-time reigning champion Montgomery.
The Panthers will face fourth-seeded Ridge for the title at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Watchung Hills High School.
“We came into the county tournament and getting ready for states just knowing that this is our year,” said senior co-captain Lauren Hall, who assisted on the game’s second goal. “The amount of heart on this team and the amount of dedication we put in at practice is unbelievable, and I couldn’t ask for a better senior year with these girls. We’ve been working on it (the offense) in practice to capitalize in games, and now we’re going to the county championship where we haven’t been in years.”
“These kids have struggled,” said Bridgewater-Raritan coach Chris Gerber, whose team improved to 9-3-5. “They’ve had a lot of ties. They had some tough moments, and we overcame them. They know what resiliency is. It’s just a great senior leadership team. It just feels great that all the work we’ve put in has finally paid off.”
Bridgewater-Raritan’s offense had averaged just 1.3 goals per game entering Saturday’s game, but had shown signs of breaking out over the past two weeks, including a two-goal outburst against Pingry and two more against Hillsborough in last weekend’s quarterfinals.
Saturday, knowing a goal or two would likely be enough for the Panthers to turn the game over to their defense and senior keeper Casey Murphy, Schwed took the pressure off early, chipping one from just outside the 18 and tucking it under the crossbar.
“We talked all week about getting the one,” Gerber said. “Let’s get the one and things will fall into place. We have Casey, we have (Danielle) Greco, we have Jenny Sitrin, we have (Taylor) Corsi and Aspen Schneider in the back, so we know we can defend. It was just get that one in, and it was a huge lift.”
For Montgomery, which boasts a very prolific offense that includes reigning state Player of the Year Colby Ciarrocca, the early goal certainly didn’t send the Cougars into panic mode. But being unable to pierce the Panthers defense despite dominating the first half, controlling most of the second, and outshooting Bridgewater-Raritan 11-5, did prove frustrating.
“They did the job, and that’s what you have to do,” said Montgomery coach Jeremy Beardsley, who watched Ousoulijoglou put the game out of reach with 14:55 left, heading in an indirect kick by Hall.
to provide the final margin. “You have to execute and they did. They had two pretty defining moments and then they did the job, defensively, and they have an absolute stud in goal.”
Still, after making five finals since 2008 and winning four, it obviously was tough for the Cougars and their senior class to watch another trip slip away.
“There were some exceptions, but for the most part, I thought my senior class really played like champions today,” Beardsley said. “This tournament has been very good to us. We take a lot of pride in this tournament and have done very well over the years. I wanted (the seniors) to get back to one last final, we all did, and it’s a difficult thing to handle not (getting there).