Ridgewood has the will and a win in county semifinals by Cory Doviak of northjerseysports.com
FRANKLIN LAKES – Ridgewood has earned its status as favorite in the Bergen County Tournament by playing an attractive style. The top-seeded and unbeaten Maroons have been able to unlock defenses all season by involving all of their players in the buildup and working the ball around the pitch until the finishing combination presents itself.
There was some of that on Friday night in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals, but Ridgewood’s best attribute might have simply been its will to win. The Maroons showed some toughness to go along with its class against Don Bosco Prep in the Final 4 at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes.
Ridgewood took a lead midway through the first half, was pegged back just three minutes before halftime and then found the game-winner off the foot of Terrance Chun at the end of a lightning quick counter attack midway through the second half.
With a 2-1 win over Don Bosco Prep, Ridgewood earned its first trip to the Bergen County championship match since 1993 and is now one win away from its first county title since 1993. The Maroons will play No. 2 Bergen Catholic, a 3-2 winner over Cliffside Park in double overtime in the second semifinal, next Friday night in a 6:00 p.m. start at Indian Hills High School.
“You saw the effort that we put in tonight and this whole season. It has been magnificent. We have a very good team and they have heart,” said Ridgewood head coach Aidan McCluskey, whose team was well-regarded last season before a loss to Waldwick in a quarterfinal penalty kick shootout. “I think the experience of losing hurt so much that we wanted to get back out here and start again. We have learned from the past and this has been spectacular, win after win, and this is our fourth game in six days.”
Gabe Gopin (left) headed home the equalizer for Don Bosco Prep.
Don Bosco Prep almost turned the tie on its head less than two minutes in when Colin MacKenn did well with his first touch of a long ball played over the top. He shed a defender, kept his composure and chipped Ridgewood keeper Rudy Narayan only to see the ball sail just barely above the crossbar.
That was a one-off chance as the game settled into a between-the-30s with neither side able to penetrate until Ridgewood finally scored a goal in its signature style. Senior Colin Roche rolled a through ball through the needle’s eye in the middle of the park and fellow senior Kwame Grant ran in behind two defenders to catch up to the ball before freezing the keeper and depositing it in the net.
Grant, a New Balance All-American sprinter, brings game-changing speed to the Ridgewood attack. Grant is the Maroons second highest goal-scorer, but he has done it mostly as a high-energy substitute. On Friday night, he got his second start of the season and the lineup shuffle certainly paid dividends.
“I know my role, everybody on my team knows their roles and we are really good under pressure,” said Grant, who made the most of his first good chance on the Bosco goal. “It was amazing. I saw so much space. I got there as fast as I could and I placed it into the left corner.”
Senior Kwame Grant scoring the opening goal for Ridgewood, which is seeking its first county title since 1993.
Grant gave Ridgewood the lead, but also seemed to spur on the Ironmen, who had their best stretch of offensive effectiveness in the 15 minutes after they fell behind. Michael Constanza saw his header bounce off the crossbar in the 22nd minute and Estevez’s effort from the left wing at the end of a 1-2-3 combination forced Ridgewood keeper Rudy Narayan into a dive to pick off the cross/shot that might have been ticketed from the inside of the second post in the 29th minute.
Bosco kept after it and was rewarded inside the final four minutes of the opening half when it won two successive corner kicks and cashed the second. Senior Gabe Gopin attacked Estevez’s in-swinger and won it in the air with a thumping header that tied the game at 1 with 3:22 left in the first half and Bosco nearly went in front relatively early in the second.
MacKenn beat two defenders and drew the keeper while running full speed on a left to right diagonal, but was on a deep angle by the time the goal opened up in front of him and his shot hit the outside netting at the near post eight minutes after the intermission.
Ten minutes after that, the game turned in Ridgewood’s favor for good with senior midfielder Terrence Chun the beneficiary of another perfectly-weighted through ball played along the floor by Kaishu Murai. Chun picked up possession on the right side, shot back into the left side of the goal and gave the Maroons the lead for good with 22:45 left showing on the game clock.
“I saw a little gap and started my run. The goalie might have come out a little too quickly I think and I saw the open side of the net and slotted it home,” said Chun, who is one of 17 seniors on the Ridgewood roster. “We have been wanting this for so long. In past years our team has been really good, but we feel like this is our year. As you can see, we have a lot of heart and we want to win all of it.”