WHS girls soccer wins Group 4 State Championship on last-second goal


The screams of encouragement from the WHS student section began to crescendo as Alyssa Martinez drove toward the 18-yard box. Passing the ball off to Chiara Cosenza, Martinez continued her run forward, receiving a pass back with just 15 seconds left in the game. She cut hard onto her left foot, took one quick glance toward the goal, and released the shot that would clinch WHS girls soccer its first Group 4 State Title since 1989.

The ball soared toward the goal, glanced off the outstretched hands of Freehold goalkeeper Ashley Moore, and then crossed the goal line as the keeper caught the ball and fell with it into the goal with eight seconds remaining. 

And the WHS student section erupted into pandemonium. 

Nobody could believe the events unfolding before their eyes. Not the student section that became a seething mass of elation, not the stunned Freehold players staring aghast at the goal, not the Westfield players piling on top of Martinez. It was a truly surreal moment.

The crazy ending seemed fitting given the two teams participating in the championship game. Both Freehold and Westfield entered the contest undefeated, and came in as the top-ranked teams in New Jersey. The rankings compiled by nj.com listed Freehold as the best team in the state, and Westfield a close second.

For much of the game, that order of ranking appeared to hold true. Freehold controlled the early stages of the game, dominating possession out of the gate and forcing saves out of Westfield goalkeeper Sutton Factor. Westfield did manage to mount a couple of successful counter-attacks, yet never created a serious goal-scoring opportunity. 

But the Blue Devils began to find their feet in the closing minutes of the first half. One instant that seemed to give them life was a physical play, in which a Freehold player was shouldered (cleanly) to the turf — a moment that played to the widespread glee of the WHS student section, which serenaded the fallen player with chants of “weight room.”

The conspicuous absence of anything resembling a Freehold student section also may have benefitted Westfield. Yet, there was Freehold in the opening portion of the second half, looking dangerous once again. Factor was forced into a series of saves in order to keep the score level. 

With the clock ticking toward the 20-minute mark, Westfield finally applied the high press. Their new aggression yielded results, and the complexion of the game quickly changed as Westfield gained the upper hand. 

Forward Gabby Gil orchestrated a string of threatening moves, but to no avail — the teams remained in a 0-0 deadlock. Westfield’s best chance prior to the ending goal came when Ciara Dursee’s cross found Martinez’s head, but the ball was safely collected by Freehold keeper Moore. 

The game appeared destined for overtime as the clock wound under one minute. The ball ping-ponged between halves, both teams struggling for one final opportunity to steal a last-minute victory. Finally, it was Gil taking the initiative, collecting the ball near midfield and turning upfield. Gil was brought down near the 35-yard line, but the official correctly played advantage as the ball fell to Martinez.

And the rest, as they say, is (Blue Devil) history.

“I fell to the ground after I took the shot, so at first I didn’t think it went in and I thought the goalie got the ball,” said Martinez. “But then I came back up and I realized that the goalie had the ball in her hands, but she was in the goal. I looked around and heard everyone cheering and running to me. I looked at the clock and saw eight seconds left and I was shocked.”

Martinez wasn’t the only one to talk about how unbelievable the play was. 

“It felt like it was pulled straight out of a movie,” said WHS junior Theo Sica. Indeed, it was a Hollywood-esque conclusion to the season, but so too was the ride that preceded it. 

Name an accomplishment, and Westfield achieved it. Watchung Conference champions? Check. Union County Champions? Check. Undefeated record? Check. Three wins against perennial rival Scotch Plains? Check.

Freehold had an equally impressive resume, but at the end of the day only one team could hoist the Group 4 trophy. That it turned out to be Westfield is not only a testament to the team’s skill, but also to its grit and mental toughness. 

“Everything we worked for this season paid off,” said Martinez. “I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”

It was the program’s first title appearance since 2009, and first victory since 1989. Even amid the trophy presentation and ensuing celebration, many of the Westfield players still seemed unable to believe that what had just happened was real.

Better believe it, girls. You’re state champs.