Ava Nunziato scored twice in the first half for Rutherford, which kept itself in the hunt for a league title with a 3-1 win at Hawthorne on Tuesday afternoon.
HAWTHORNE – With four teams battling for the NJIC-Colonial Division title and just a half-game separating first place from fourth just past the halfway point of the league schedule, there is little margin for error. Two of those teams, Rutherford and Hawthorne, squared off on Tuesday trying to stay in the mix.
Quickly falling behind on the road could have caused panic for Rutherford, but the Bulldogs took the opposite approach and it fueled them to work even harder towards a desired result.
Ava Nunziato did all the damage in the first half, scoring twice to put the Bulldogs back in front. Delaney Manning added an insurance goal and a stellar effort from Regina Maslag in net made sure it held up as Rutherford stayed within striking distance of first place with a 3-1 triumph at Hawthorne High School on Tuesday afternoon.
Hawthorne came out strong from the opening whistle and took the lead just shy of the 10 minute mark. Patty Jacobsen bent a corner kick towards the far post for the Bears' most dangerous scoring threat, Briana Andreoli. The super sophomore was unmarked and alertly headed the ball back inside the near post for her 14th goal of the season to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
Briana Andreoli gave Hawthorne an early lead with a goal at the 10 minute mark.
The Bulldogs faced a early deficit on a grass field on the road. What could have been a crushing moment to their league title hopes ended up being a galvanizing one instead. They took control of the midfield and pressed forward before Nunziato found the equalizer. After taking a short pass at the top of the box she used a pullback to create space before bending a perfect left-footed shot that grazed the left post and in to knot the score at 1.
“I knew their goalie stayed on her line and was tall so I wanted to keep my shot low,” said Nunziato. “Usually when the other team scores first we put our heads down and it takes us awhile to get back to playing our game. Them scoring first ended up making us stronger today. Once we tied the game we felt confident that we could take the lead.”
Gabby Centurion created problems up the right flank all game long for the Bears' back line. Her hustle led to both the second and third goals. In the 31st minute off of a counterattack, she tracked down a through ball and sent a hard cross along the goalmouth. Nunziato beat both a defender a Hawthorne defender and the goaltender to the ball, toe-poking it past them both to put the Bulldogs in front, 2-1.
Delaney Manning had a goal in the second half for Rutherford, which improved to 7-2-1 on the season.
Twenty minutes later, Centurion hustled to save a ball from going over the end line near the corner flag. Not only did she keep the ball in play but lofted a cross towards the middle of the box. Manning made a diagonal run to get to the ball first and volley it home to make it 3-1.
Hawthorne (6-3) switched up their formation and was on the attack over the final 20 minutes. They had a handful of scoring chances from close range, including a pair from Andreoli. Maslag was the aggressor in the box throughout the second half and made several big saves to help Rutherford hold on for the all-important win.
Maslag finished with seven saves for Rutherford (7-2-1). The Bulldogs will get another tough opponent when taking on Pompton Lakes on Thursday with sole possession of first place in the NJIC-Colonial on the line.
“We have to execute for the full 80 minutes,” said Maslag, a senior. “We had to step and work together like we did today. I think we played pretty well, we just have to keep communicating and not take anything for granted.”