Linder saves the day and everything else for Pascack Hills by Rich Barton of northjerseysports.com
FRANKLIN LAKES – Nicole Linder woke up on Sunday morning aware of what was in store. The Pascack Hills’ goalie knew that she would have to face the four-time defending Bergen County champion Northern Highlands, a team that was peaking once again at Bergen County Tournament time despite being the eighth seed. To keep her team in the game, Linder was probably going to have to keep the Highlanders off the scoreboard. Playing in the biggest game of her life, Linder picked the perfect time to play the best game of her life.
Linder stood on her head with one spectacular save after another. With impressive instincts and sheer determination the senior was able to hold off the Highlanders through regulation and two overtime periods. After 100 minutes of scoreless soccer, Linder saved her best save for last in the penalty-kick shootout.
She came up with a huge save on the fourth shooter before the Highlanders’ last chance hit the crossbar. That kicked off a massive celebration as, after 58 consecutive defeats to Highlands in a row, ninth-seeded Pascack Hills finally found a way to past and advanced, 0-0 (4-3 in Pks), to the Bergen County Tournament quarterfinals.
“I know my team is there for me and has my back, I had to have theirs too,” said Linder. “I had to be aggressive and cut down the angles. Games like this, I just go for everything and see where it takes me.”
Pascack Hills was able to knock the ball around early with Northern Highlands, but as the first half wound down the Highlanders started to take control and had back-to-back shots from point-blank range. Linder was in the right place at the right time all game. She dropped down to make the first then somehow got to her feet and to the opposite post to stop the second shot.
Anna Sciuto made four save, including one in the PK shootout, for Northern Highlands.
The match was scoreless at halftime but it seemed like just before the Highlanders would break through. Early in the second half Linder once again had to face consecutive shots within eight yards of the net. With two huge saves the game it was official that Linder was in a zone like she had never been in before.
She was not without help though from the back line. In the 66th minute, Brooke Boyer beat Linder to a loose ball along the end line. With Linder on the ground, Boyer shot from a tough angle. The ball looked to be going in but Nicole DiCaprio checked back and cleared the ball off the goal line as the Cowgirls survived regulation and forced overtime.
Northern Highlands (5-3-2) looked to end it quickly in the first overtime. Right off the opening whistle the Highlanders pushed forward and nearly scored 12 seconds in. Linder was forced to make a diving save on a Reagan Klarmann blast. She added four more saves over the two overtime periods to finally give put the Cowgirls on even footing as the two teams needed a penalty-kick shootout to decide a winner.
Both teams scored on their first three attempts when Linder came off her line to take the fourth shot. Northern Highlands’ goalie Anna Sciuto (four saves) dove to her right to make the save. That put the Highlanders in the driver’s seat with two shooters left to the Cowgirls’ one. Linder felt she had to atone for her mistake and took a calculated gamble on the Highlanders’ fourth shooter.
Pascack Hills celebrated after earning its first-ever trip to the Bergen County Tournament quarterfinals.
“I looked at her eyes and saw her look to the other corner but it’s a trick I know some girls like to do,” added Linder. “I had a hunch she was going to away from where she was looking and just read her hips. Our team was excited to get this win that I couldn’t let them down.”
Carolyn Weinberger struck the ball well and placed it towards the upper right-hand corner. Linder anticipated it so early though that she was there before the ball and punched it away.
With the Cowgirls re-energized, Samantha Goldman ripped a shot into the back of the net to put Pascack Hills (8-3-2) in front. The Highlanders’ last shot finally got past Linder but hit flush off the crossbar as the Pascack Hills took part in a celebration that was overdue from long before this current crop of players were born.
Pascack Hills advanced to the Bergen County quarterfinals for the first time in school history while the exit for the Highlanders in the Round of 16 was the first time that has happened since 1998. The Cowgirls will get another tall order in the quarters when they take on top-seeded Ramapo, a 1-0 winner over Glen Rock on Sunday. Playing with house money and with the hottest goaltender in Bergen County, this energetic group wants to add to its already historic run.
“Beating a team like Northern Highlanders that has dominated the Bergen County Tournament for years is a program-defining win,” said Pascack Hills’ head coach James Louden. “Today was all about Nicole and how well she played in net. We’ve been on a run since last year. We played a lot of top teams close but couldn’t get over the hump. Today we wanted to make a statement and we did just that.”