SOUTH PLAINFIELD — With nearly a week to prepare for a third meeting against Sayreville, the South Plainfield High School girls soccer team came out with a plan and executed it perfectly on Wednesday, emerging with a 2-1 victory in the first round of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament.
The Tigers, seeded 16th in the tournament, got goals from Caity Hughes and Michaella Butrico to avenge a pair of contests in the regular season against their White Division rivals in which they were unable to pick up a victory.
South Plainfield’s reward for a hard-fought victory is a trip to play the tournament’s top seed — East Brunswick — on Friday.
Hughes got the Tigers on the board 17 minutes in when she followed up a blocked shot in the box and got in behind her defender before blasting home a low line drive to the lower third of the net. Just a freshman, Hughes executed exactly what head coach Danielle Chiera had planned for the contest.
“It was really great because we’ve spent the last two days going over how we were going to pressure and defend Sayreville and Caity did her job today,” Chiera said. “She had to deny (Sayreville defender) Nicole Raub any service out of their end and when the ball got blocked and Raub stepped out, Caity got in behind her and put it in. She got us a big goal when we needed it.”
The lead stood at 1-0 until the 49th minute, when Butrico was the beneficiary of another loose ball in front of the Sayreville net. South Plainfield had worked the ball down the field, eventually sending in a through-ball towards the net, but Brianna Boyce’s shot was blocked and it skidded to Butrico’s foot and she didn’t miss it.
South Plainfield kept the pressure on throughout the remainder of the second half, but Sayreville wouldn’t go away quietly. With four minutes to play, the 17th-seeded Bombers created their own scrum in the box, and this time they put away a loose ball. Morgan Guenther sent a shot just out of the reach of Sydni Suroweic to cut the lead in half.
The final moments were full of chaotic possessions, with neither side looking comfortable at all, but as the final whistle blew, it was South Plainfield moving one step closer to a conference title.
“I thought both teams played real hard and it was a great soccer game today between two good White Division teams,” Chiera said. “I think the girls just wanted it a little bit more today. They were very excited for this game and they came out very strong and you can never count Sayreville out.”
Friday’s matchup against an East Brunswick side that’s skidding a bit of late will be a tall task, but Chiera has no doubt her squad will come out ready to go.
“I’ll tell the girls that on any given day, anyone can win. If they get psyched up the way they did today, it should be a pretty good game,” she said. “We’re not giving up and we’re going to come out strong.”