CLARK – The favorite, the top seed, the team that beat the other team twice in two tries in division play and the team seeking to win the championship for the first time in 10 years was on its way, taking a relatively quick 2-0 lead.
The underdog, the third seed, the team that moved mountains by preventing defending champion Scotch Plains from reaching the title contest for a 15th straight season by beating the Raiders on penalty kicks in the semifinals came back with a vengeance in the second half and tied the match with just over 20 minutes to go.
Then we went to sudden-death or Golden Goal, whichever you prefer, single overtime. Ten minutes, no goals.
Then we went to double overtime. Ten more minutes, still no goals.
There you have it. What comes next is the phrase that makes more than one side happy, but does not really excite either one.
After falling behind by a couple of goals just 10 minutes into the match third-seeded Westfield came back to even the contest with two goals of its own in the second half to tie top-seeded Cranford 2-2 in Friday night’s 39th annual girls’ soccer Union County Tournament championship game played at Johnson High School’s Nolan Field.
Before what appeared for a soccer event to be a full house of fans from both Westfield and Cranford, both sides played to two, somewhat dramatic, scoreless overtime periods.
For those of you seeking the penalty kick shootout to determine the Union County Tournament champion if the score in the final remains tied after two sudden-death overtime periods, you may get your wish starting as quickly as 2020.
Union County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (UCIAC) Executive Director Tom Lewis said at Johnson Friday night before the girls’ final that penalty kicks will be in effect to decide UCT finals beginning next year. He was emphatic in his tone following the third straight year that the boys’ final ended in a tie.
No more co-champions.
“I will do whatever it takes to make that happen,” Lewis said.
Last year state tournament play went back to the penalty kick shootout to determine group champions. Also in 2018 nearby Essex County went to penalty kicks to avoid co-champions in its boys’ and girls’ county tournaments.
Westfield won its record 21st UCT crown and fifth shared. The last five times Westfield won the championship were shared after the Blue Devils won their first 16 championships outright.
Cranford won its third UCT title and first shared. The first two Cougar championships came in 2000 and 2009.
This was the second time in the past three years that co-champions were declared and the fifth time since 2002, with Westfield involved all five times.
The last time Westfield won the UCT championship outright was in 2001, one year after Cranford won the crown for the first time.
Friday night’s girls’ final saw goals by Kirsten Williams, on a header, and Laurel Teel give Cranford its 2-0 first half advantage.
Westfield countered in the second half with goals by Faith Dobosiewicz and Julia Weinstein.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Cranford head coach Andrew Gagliardo said. “Westfield came back with two solid goals and then it was a battle. I think it was a 50-50 game from there on.”
Just three minutes into the match Cranford standout all-state senior performer Maggie Murray sent a cross from the right side that reached the middle of the penalty box. There Williams was in perfect position to snap a header past Westfield goalie Erin Harris to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead with 36:47 remaining in the first half.
Continuing on the attack, Cranford struck again at the 29:27 mark when Laurel Teel from the left side one-timed a right-footed shot that reached the back of the net.
Westfield was not as fortunate offensively in the first 40 minutes. Cranford’s defense kept the Blue Devils near midfield or back for most of the time. Westfield managed only two shots in the first half, both long-range, and did not register its first until there was just 13:49 to go before intermission.
“At halftime we were excited, we were playing well,” Gagliardo said.
“Whether we’re up 2-0, or 3-0, or 5-0, we try to play like the score is 0-0,” Murray said. “We want to keep scoring.”
During intermission most would have thought the last thing they were going to see on this night was overtime. Although Cranford did not add to its two-goal lead in the final 30 minutes of the first half, the Cougars were clearly the superior team.
Soon that would all change.
Westfield knew it had to play with an increased energy level in the second half if it was going to get back into the match.
“There were three things we wanted to accomplish in the first half as part of our strategy and they pretty much all went out the window once Cranford scored their goals early on,” Westfield head coach Alex Schmidt said. “I said to the girls, ‘do you know that this is the championship game?’”
All that changed just less than three minutes into the second half when standout senior Faith Dobosiewicz, from 30 yards out, drilled a left-footed shot from the left side of the field that on one bounce zoomed into the right corner of the goal to pull Westfield to within 2-1.
“In the first half we didn’t know what was going on,” Dobosiewicz said. “When coach put me and Sofia Carayannopoulos in the midfield it created a lot of energy.”
Twelve minutes later a header by Dobosiewicz went past Cranford goalkeeper Amanda Vath, with Cranford’s Morgan Heim there to clear the ball away in front of the goal line.
Then five minutes later Dobosiewicz sent a long cross with her right foot inside the penalty box. It appeared that teammate Grace Friedberg was able to head the pass directly to another Westfield player.
That was Julia Weinstein, who with her right foot was able to kick the ball into the goal to tie the match at 2-2.
Suddenly the championship game was even with the second part of the second half still remaining.
“We knew the first five minutes of the second half were going to be important and when Westfield got its first goal the momentum shifted,” Gagliardo said.
“We’ve come from behind the entire year,” Schmidt said. “We lost the first time to Cranford in overtime and the second time in the last three minutes. We couldn’t have played any worse than we did in the first 15 minutes of this game.
“Moving Faith and Sofia up was important for us. Having Faith close to the goal is always a good thing.”
Grace Lanza fire a left-footed shot for Westfield that Vath saved with 16:22 to go. Murray let go of a shot from the left side that Harris deflected with her body with 15:48 remaining.
Murray, who scored the game-winning goal in both of Cranford’s Watchung Division wins over Westfield, was marked closely and effectively by Westfield senior Catharine Miller, No. 14.
“What a game Catharine had,” Schmidt said. “She’s usually in the midfield for us, but we put her on Murray because she’s our fastest player.”
Another Dobosiewicz header that was on its way into the goal was cleared again by Heim when the clock was down to 7:30 left.
When the first overtime commenced Dobosiewicz and her Westfield teammates were still riding the high of having tied the game.
“In overtime I felt we had even more energy,” Dobosiewicz said.
There was really only one shot of note in the first overtime period and it was by Teel, with the ball going just wide of the right side of the goal with 3:22 remaining.
With 4:25 left in the second overtime Westfield created chaos inside the Cranford penalty box. Dobosiewicz first drilled a left-footed shot that Vath made a diving save on using both hands to clear. Then Alyssa Martinez, from the right side, blasted the rebound with Vath making another save. A third Vath save was made in the sequence before the ball was finally cleared out of danger.
“I just tried to keep my focus,” Vath said. “I always try to push myself.”
Vath made two more huge saves with just 12 seconds to go to preserve the tie and half the county championship for her and her teammates.
“Our back four did a great job and I could go on and on for days talking about how well Amanda played,” Gagliardo said. “She’s only a junior, so we get her for one more year.”
Now Westfield and Cranford will go on their separate ways in state tournament play, Westfield in North 2, Group 4 and Cranford in North 2, Group 3. Cranford reached last year’s N2G3 final.
“We talked about this being a goal of ours and it’s a fantastic achievement,” Gagliardo said of being county champions.
“We have a method called ‘mindfulness’ which a practice where we don’t bother with the negative, we put it in the river,” Schmidt said. “We had to do that after what happened in the beginning of the match.”
Murray on being co-champions: “I’m definitely not satisfied, but it’s better than a loss. I can’t be upset. Everyone on our team gave 110 percent.”
Dobosiewicz on being co-champions: “We can still put a number up on a banner in our school so I will take it. To make the comeback that we did was great.”
39TH ANNUAL GIRLS’ SOCCER UCT CHAMPIONSHP GAME
AT JOHNSON HIGH SCHOOL’S NOLAN FIELD IN CLARK
3-Westfield (8-3-6) 0 2 0 0 – 2
1-Cranford (13-3-2) 2 0 0 0 – 2
FIRST HALF SCORING:
Cranford scores to make it 1-0 Cougars.
Goal: Kirsten Williams. Assist: Maggie Murray. Time remaining: 36:47.
Cranford scores again to make it 2-0 Cougars.
Goal: Laurel Teel. Assist: None. Time remaining: 29:27.
SECOND HALF SCORING:
Westfield scores to pull to within 2-1.
Goal: Faith Dobosiewicz. Assist: None. Time remaining: 37:11.
Westfield scores again to tie the match at 2-2.
Goal: Julia Weinstein. Assist: Grace Friedberg. Time remaining: 20:47.
3-WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (8-3-6):
0-Megan Raftery, senior – goalkeeper
1-Erin Harris, senior – goalkeeper
2-Alyssa Martinez, freshman
3- Kim DiFilippo, sophomore
4-Amanda Cerrachio, junior
5-Mikaela Buoscio, senior
6-Katie Hamilton, junior
7-Jane Sullivan, junior
8-Grace Lanza, junior
9-Charlotte Dursee, junior
10-Riley Ciarletta, senior
11-Ana Fowler, senior
12-Julia Weinstein, junior
13-Gras Friedberg, senior
14-Catharine Miller, senior
15-Kelly Eagan, junior
16-Sofia Carayannopoulos, senior
17-Faith Dobosiewicz, senior
18-Carly Sherman, senior
19-Julia Johnson-Milstein, junior
20-Izzy Gauthier, sophomore
21-Ellie Sherman, sophomore
22-Maddie Silva, junior
23-Sara Perlin, junior
25-Kelly Sullivan, sophomore
Head coach: Alex Schmidt
Assistant: Katie Wertheimer
Volunteer: Chris Carson
1-CRANFORD COUGARS (13-3-2):
Amanda Vath, junior – goalkeeper
Maya Jones, senior – goalkeeper
1-Zoe Trotta, senior
2-Kirsten Williams, junior
3-Riley Korzeneski, sophomore
5-Aileen McGovern, freshman
6-Gabriella Baiada, freshman
7-Maggie Murray, senior
8-Claire Ganley, senior
10-Josie Gunther, junior
11-Brook Swandrak, senior
12-Laurel Teel, senior
14-Madison Flynn, senior
16-Sophia Montague, junior
19-Abby Ahern, junior
20-Morgan Heim, junior
22-Caroline Ewing, senior
25-Nellie Clark, senior
Head coach: Andrew Gagliardo
Assistant: Lindsey Fisk
UCT GIRLS’ SOCCER CHAMPIONS
2019: Cranford 2, Westfield 2 – co-champs
2018: Scotch Plains 2, Cranford 0
2017: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 1 – co-champs
2016: Scotch Plains 1, Oak Knoll 0 (OT)
2015: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
2014: Scotch Plains 1, Union 0 (2OT)
2013: Scotch Plains 1, Cranford 0
2012: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 1 – co-champs
2011: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0
2010: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 0
2009: Cranford 1, Scotch Plains 0
2008: Scotch Plains 3, Johnson 0
2007: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0
2006: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 1 – co-champs
2005: Scotch Plains 1, Oak Knoll 0
2004: Gov. Livingston 1, Cranford 0
2003: Oak Knoll 5, Gov. Livingston 0
2002: Westfield 1, Oak Knoll 1 – co-champs
2001: Westfield 2, New Providence 0
2000: Cranford 3, Union Catholic 1
1999: Union Catholic 4, Cranford 1
1998: Union Catholic 1, Cranford 0
1997: Union Catholic 2, Scotch Plains 0
1994: Westfield 2, Johnson 1
1993: Union Catholic
Westfield 21 (5 shared)
Scotch Plains 13 (3 shared)
Union Catholic 4
Cranford 3 (1 shared)
Oak Knoll 2 (1 shared)
Gov. Livingston 1