HHS soccer teams advance to SCT quarterfinals

Szymanik header helps boys join girls as Monday winners

By: Rudy Brandl
   Hillsborough High’s soccer teams went 2-for-2 in Monday afternoon’s Somerset County Tournament home doubleheader at Auten Road School.
   While the girls (4-5-2) had an easy day disposing of Bernards with a 6-0 rout, the boys (9-3) had to work hard for a full 80 minutes to post a 3-2 victory over a scrappy Bound Brook squad. Both HHS teams will be on the road for Saturday’s SCT quarterfinals at 2 p.m. — the sixth-ranked girls at No. 3 Ridge and the eighth-seeded boys at No. 1 Bernards.
   Junior midfielder Tom Szymanik made it a perfect day for Hillsborough when he ripped home a crisp header with six minutes remaining in regulation. Szymanik positioned himself at the near post and redirected a corner kick from Eric Pyne for a dramatic game-winning goal. The HHS girls had just completed their victory and walked over to the adjacent field to watch the conclusion of an exciting victory by their schoolmates.
   "We’ve been practicing corners a lot," Szymanik said afterward. "I just ran near post and flicked it in. The near post was wide-open so I figured I’d be wide-open."
   Szymanik’s bullet header capped a wild second half for the Raiders, who fell behind 1-0 at the half, rallied to take a 2-1 lead within a span of three minutes early in the second half but had to score again after Bound Brook tied the game with 15:29 remaining. This was a hotly-contested game between two solid teams.
   "They were better than a ninth seed but I think we’re better than an eighth seed," HHS head coach Eric Puma said after his first tournament victory. "I was very worried about them. They’re very physical, very tough and very impressive."
   The Crusaders didn’t mind mixing it up with the Raiders, especially in the first half when the visitors had momentum and a 1-0 lead. John Perez scored the game’s first goal on an acrobatic bicycle kick midway through the first half, but the Raiders regrouped during the intermission.
   "I told them we were better than this," Puma said. "We didn’t give our best effort and we still had 40 minutes to prove it. Then we started playing a little more physical and a little more intelligently. Once we started playing with our heads instead of our bodies, the game turned around."
   Sophomore Luis Ortiz, who was called up to replace injured scoring leader Tony Flores, scored the first two goals of his varsity career to put the Raiders in front. Ortiz one-timed a cross from Jeff Meltzer in the 47th minute to tie the score and headed in a well-placed corner kick from Kevin Lynch a few minutes later for a 2-1 lead.
   The Raiders were winning possession of the ball and controlling the action, but the Crusaders took advantage of a counterattack opportunity and tied the game when Esteban Ballestero knocked in a rebound at the far post. HHS sophomore goalkeeper Cameron Koplik, one of three players taking over for injured starters, made a diving save but couldn’t stop the trailing Crusader from knocking home the rebound.
   Puma credited Koplik, sweeper Alex Beal and Ortiz for stepping up in a pressure situation. Starting keeper Benny Stanislav, sweeper Tony Crivello and Flores all missed the game with injuries but the Raiders won their third straight game and are heading up to Bernards on a roll.
   "I’m anxious to play them," Puma said. "I think our boys can do well. I think we can give them a good game."
   The Hillsborough girls won’t be far away in the northern part of the county Saturday, when they’ll face an equaling challenging task at Ridge. Although she’s confident her team has overcome the early scoring slump, Lady Raider head coach LeeAnn Wyble knows it won’t be easy to get past the Red Devils.
   "It’s going to be a very good game," Wyble said. "They have a very good possession game and they have the tradition of being a very good team and making it far in county competition."
   Hillsborough scored at least six goals in a game for the third time in Monday’s county contest and five different girls got into the act. Junior Sara Fedorczyk started the assault with her team-leading seventh goal just 1:02 into the game off an assist from Kaitlin Wagner. Freshman Lauren Ebert scored the next two, one in each half, to make it 3-0.
   Natalie Inman, Stacey Dzvileski and Liz Bales added goals in the final 20 minutes for the impressive final margin. Kaitlyn Adams, Bales and Katelyn Powers recorded assists for the winners.
   "It’s typical of how we’ve been dominating, but now we’re just putting in goals," Wyble said. "I wanted a good win against a pretty decent team to make sure we’re back on track."
   The Lady Raiders, who still need to win a few games to qualify for the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs, are feeling especially confident since their dramatic 1-0 overtime victory over Watchung Hills.
   "That was so awesome," said Fedorczyk, who produced the game-winner against the county’s top team. "We beat a team that was undefeated and that just made our confidence go so high. Now, the ‘boro is back."