Who needs a scoreboard?
The absence of one at Ridge, which is in the process of erecting a new display, may have seemed a bit alarming at the outset of Thursday night’s Skyland Conference showdown between Bridgewater-Raritan and the host school. But, other than provide players, coaches and fans with the elapsed time of the match, for one night, it would have served no other purpose.
While nary a goal was scored during the scoreless overtime draw that kicked off their 2012 campaigns, points were nonetheless made by both squads that wouldn’t have materialize on any scoreboard but are the kind well received when film is broken down as they press forward against some grueling competition.
First-year coach Chris Gerber can bask in how well Bridgewater executed its attractive possession-oriented style. It was unveiled following a preseason dedicated to selling it to players who quickly realized its accentuates their strengths and elevates the Panthers’ status within a conference that offers future encounters with heavyweights like Montgomery and Pingry beyond the Opening Night matchup with Ridge, the defending NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 champion.
From the outset, the Panthers crisply maneuvered the ball to feet, controlling possession for long stretches while utilizing every inch of width over the initial 40 minutes. Senior outside midfielder Brianna Petro was routinely targeted along the left flank to create chances while central midfielders Erin Sullivan and Allison Morgan steered feeds on the deck that enabled Bridgewater to get an early advantage in the tug of war for the command of the neutral third.
“It was always there. We had to harness it and get them to buy into our philosophy of soccer, which is to play possession and make teams come to you,” Gerber said of his offensive designs. “We are slowly getting there but we just have to put the pieces together in the final third. Once we figure that out, we will be very dangerous going forward.”
While the new scheme may not have produced a goal, it did manage to provide a sense of encouragement for those who played significant roles in its execution.
“We use to play really direct,” Sullivan, a senior, noted. “The whole summer we worked on drills where we had to get the ball upfield through feet in 30 seconds and you can see that paying off.”
“It makes it easier to find passes and connect give and goes,” added Petro. “I like that style of play.”
Bridgewater did a nice job of getting Ridge’s attention in the first half, to the point that the Red Devils regrouped following intermission and began to assert their own similar offensive design with a higher rate of success.
Ridge, No. 6 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, made itself more dangerous in the second half and fed off a slight shift in momentum that carried into extra time, triggered by the timely runs of sophomore Jenny Haskel.
After starting the game in the central midfield, Haskel slipped back to her more noted position as a defender, yet developed a number of explosive bursts out of the back that yielded scoring opportunities. She let go a 25-yard blast late in the first overtime that screamed past the near post and, moments later, her corner kick from the left flag was greeted with a snapping header by junior midfielder Lucy Aaron that whistled just over the crossbar.
“When there is an open hole, I make my move up,” said Haskel, who’s been entrusted by Ridge coach Katie Donahue to join the attack when an opportunity arises. “I love making those runs and changing instantly from defense to offense.”
Ridge drummed up one final bid at a golden goal off the work of junior forward Kelly McWhorter.
Her hustle from start to finish nearly paid off when she put high pressure on a ball played into the penalty area that prompted Bridgewater junior keeper Casey Murphy to charge off her line to clear. However, Murphy’s blast ricocheted off McWhorter and veered toward the unguarded net before trickling harmlessly wide and out of bounds in front of the final whistle.
“I thought in the second half and overtime, we played much better,” Donahue said. “We look like a different team when we get the ball on the ground and connect. We have work to do. We didn’t initiate any tempo early one.”
Give credit to a pair of defenses that were in mid-season form. Both teams limited the shots they surrendered due largely to their cohesion within their respective flat-back looks. In contest that featured two superb keepers in Murphy and Ridge senior Rachel Axt saw neither one forced into much action.
Murphy came out to intercept a few of the many long throw-ins launched by Ridge junior outside mid Gigi Cifelli, removing one of the Red Devils’ more effective set pieces. And, she responded with a sprawling stop on a glancing header by senior Courtney Wu off one of Cifelli’s heaves in the 25th minute.
Axt answered the call in the 70th minute, parrying aside a touch by Bridgewater senior forward Dana Lytle off a cross from junior outside midfielder Jessica Schwed.
The two teams mustered five shots apiece while each keeper finished with two saves.
Pingry 2, North Hunterdon 1: After surrendering a goal in the opening minutes, Pingry rebounded with an equalizer from junior midfielder Rachel Corboz before halftime. Sophomore forward Tanika Roach snapped the deadlock midway through the second half.
Wall 7, Red Bank 0: Casey Zalewski and Ariana DeBlasio netted two goals apiece to fuel Wall. Zalewski, Abigail Musto and Colleen Knier each supplied two assists.
Kinnelon 3, Pequannock 2: Freshman Ida DiClemente put away a restart from Emily Hauser with three minutes showing in regulation to snap a 2-2 tie for Kinnelon. Goals from Ingrid DiClemente and Chalen Noble staked Kinnelon to a 2-0 advantage at the half. Pequannock drew level behind strikes from Katie DeLellis and Kendall Machak.
Morris Catholic 8, Boonton 1: Senior center midfielder Tara Sobierajski collected four goals and two assists for the Crusaders. Freshman Stella Johnson chipped in with a pair of goal and junior Amanda Migoya added a goal and two assists.
Gov. Livingston 8, Delaware Valley 0: Jenn French, Missy Quinn and Julia Stripe deposited two goals apiece to drive Gov. Livingston.
Livingston 4, West Essex 0: Junior Sabrina Flores set up senior Joanna Scotti for an opening score in the 32nd minute before backing it with two goals of her own for Livingston, No. 3 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15.
Gregg Lerner covers girls soccer for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner