CLINTON — Come state tournament time, the chance to see a team for a third time is presented, and in the case of the Bridgewater-Raritan High School boys soccer team, the third time was the charm against North Hunterdon.
Just seconds after being taken down along the sideline to win a free kick, Andrew Masur pounced on a loose ball in front of the net and knocked it home for the contest’s lone goal, lifting ninth-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan over eighth-seeded North Hunterdon 1-0 in a NJSIAA North 2 Group IV first-round game on Tuesday.
The Panthers advance to Friday’s quarterfinals and a matchup against No. 1 seed Watchung Hills, which advanced by knocking out Ridge 3-0.
After a scoreless first half in which Bridgewater-Raritan held the majority of the possession but was unable to get a goal to show for it, Masur went to work in the 43rd minute. The senior captain made a strong run down the right wing towards the sideline but was taken out on the play by a North Hunterdon defender, earning a free kick. Classmate Josh Rich stepped up and played a nice ball into the Lions’ box, where it bounced around for a few seconds before Masur jumped on it and beat North Hunterdon goalkeeper Jon Scott.
“I got fouled and I thought it was a little bit of a cheap shot, and Josh just put a good ball in for me on the free kick,” Masur said. “I just saw it there and jumped on it and knocked it in.”
The Panthers, who had lost to North Hunterdon twice in the regular season by 2-1 scores both times, knew that if they were going to reverse that trend, they would need Masur and Rich to carry them.
“I thought that today Andrew Masur and Josh Rich played their best games, in terms of effort on the field, of the season,” Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Rick Szeles said. “Andrew had to get up and play; I challenged him before the game, I told him he had to carry the team and he did that.”
Rich ended up getting the game’s second-best chance five minutes after Masur’s goal, but his shot on a mini-breakaway was high over the bar. From there, Bridgewater-Raritan focused its energy on stopping North Hunterdon from earning an equalizer, in particular doing its best to shut down senior forward Logan Ventura.
“We dealt with Ventura’s long throw much better today,” Panthers goalkeeper Amit Mohan said. “He beat us twice with it last time and we knew that we’d have to shut it down and we did a good job with it today.”
Mohan came up with a few solid saves on the day to earn the shutout, but North Hunterdon simply couldn’t put multiple passes together to come up with a quality scoring chance. Szeles preached to his squad that they were playing a team that was very evenly skilled to them and that it wouldn’t be easy to walk away victorious.
“North Hunterdon put a lot of pressure on us and Amit played well. We just played strong soccer and I told the kids that if we played North Hunterdon 10 times, it would be split; we’d win five and they’d win five. That’s how close we are,” Szeles said.