Johnson Girls Earn Spot in the State Finals
Rain can't dampen Lady Crusaders' drive to the championship game as they fight for teammate Eryka Underwood.
The Records: The Arthur L. Johnson Lady Crusaders (14-6-1) took on the Middle Township Panthers (17-4-2) Tuesday night at Washington Township High School in Sewell. The Lady Crusaders traveled 80 miles down the Turnpike to play in the NJSIAA Group 2 semifinals.
The Final Score: Johnson wins, 3-0! The pouring rain and wind-driven conditions couldn't deter the Johnson girls from playing their game. The team was playing inspired soccer, intent on winning once again for teammate Eryka Underwood, who was seriously burned in a backyard firepit accident on Nov. 2. The game began like the previous playoff games, with both teams struggling to find an early lead. Middle Township kept the pressure on Johnson's defense in the first half with two near misses that had Johnson goalie Jamie Cheeka on her toes. About 20 minutes into the game, Johnson narrowly escaped an early deficit when Middle Township's Danielle McCann drilled a shot that rattled off the crossbar and ending the first half in a scoreless tie.
But that wouldn't last for long. Ten minutes into the second half, the Crusaders' Kelly Loablo changed the game's momentum when she knocked in a loose ball from 15 feet out, giving her team a 1-0 lead. Loablo's goal sparked the Crusaders' offense, paving the way for goals from Cat Hanley and Amanda Rusin. Hanley scored on a direct penalty shot after being tripped on a breakaway just outside the box. She placed a beautiful shot on goal that tipped off the Middle Township goalie's rain-drenched gloves and into the back of the net for a 2-0 Johnson lead. Amanda Rusin finished off Johnson's offensive assault when she beat the goalie for the game's third and final goal with less than two minutes left to play.
The Hero: Johnson's Kelly Loablo's early second-half goal broke open the game and swung the momentum in the Lady Crusaders' favor. "In the first half I think the weather affected us," said Loablo after the win. "At halftime we reminded ourselves about Eryka, and that motivated us to play the way she would play."
The Quote: "They are inspired," head coach Javier Velasco said after the big win. "If they continue playing like this, don't be surprised if we get that title."
What's Next: The Crusaders, who have never made it past the NJSIAA semifinals in school history, will have a chance to win their first state championship when they face Mahwah at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Mahwah advanced with a 5-0 blowout of Hackettstown). The game will be played at the College of New Jersey in Ewing.