With the wind at its back, the crowd overwhelming in its corner and the scoreboard reading zeros, the stage couldn’t have been more perfectly set for the Bridgewater-Raritan High School girls soccer team as it emerged from halftime Tuesday on a cold, windy evening at Somerville High School. And, as has become customary in big games for the Panthers, they delivered a winning performance in their signature style.
Sophomore Hayley Soriano buried a Kelsey Coulter pass with 11:56 left in regulation and Bridgewater-Raritan’s vaunted defense did the rest, as the Panthers advanced to the NJSIAA Group IV final with a 1-0 victory over Livingston at Brooks Field.
“It was an awesome ball in,” said Soriano, who was standing to the left of the net near the top of the 18. “I got a piece of it, looked bottom right corner and just kind of put my head down and drove it in, hoping for the best.”
“Right spot, right time,” said Bridgewater-Raritan coach Chris Gerber, whose team will face Montgomery at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at The College of New Jersey. “I told them at halftime it was just going to take one, but when you get that opportunity you have to bury it and put it away. We came close a few times, but she came thorough in a huge spot for us.”
While Livingston controlled possession during the first half, it was Bridgewater-Raritan that held the shot advantage, despite going into the wind. The Panthers outshot the Lancers 5-2 in the opening period, including 4-0 on goal, and when halftime came without Livingston having broken through, B-R knew it was its game to win.
“We battle. One-nil is us.” said Gerber, whose team has allowed just 14 goals all season and pitched 15 shutouts. “We can defend, we know. We have (keeper) Casey (Murphy), we have all our defenders and our midfielders, and it’s going to take that one shot, and that’s all it took. As the second half wore on, I felt like it was just a matter of time. We just had to keep our cool, don’t get frustrated and just play it in.”
“We went out after halftime with the wind going in our favor,” Soriano said. “Great crowd turn out, and to put that shot in, there really is no better feeling.”
Bridgewater-Raritan will be making its first appearance in the Group IV final since falling to Lenape in the 2007 championship tilt. The Panthers will be seeking the program’s first-ever state championship – Bridgewater East won a Group III and Group II title before merging with Bridgewater West in the early 90s.
“I’ve dreamed of this moment,” Gerber said. “I went down as an assistant with the boys, and it was a cool experience, and I just want this team to experience it. Experience the final. It’s just been a season’s worth of work and it’s paid off, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to go with.”
“It’s family,” Soriano said. “So to do that with family, there’s no better feeling. To know we’re going to the championship game, we’ll give it a shot. We obviously have an awesome chance, and it couldn’t be more of a deserving team.”
Simeon Pincus can be reached at CNGirlsSoccer@aol.com and on Twitter @SimeonPincus,