NEPTUNE - After coming up a goal short of winning its first Shore Conference Tournament title last season, the Colts Neck girls soccer team found that one last goal,  and it came from the most likely source.

Junior Frankie Tagliaferri buried a 15-yard shot to the lower right of the goal 1:59 before halftime and the top-seeded Cougars made it stand up in a 1-0 win over No. 2 Freehold Township that gave the program its first Shore Conference Tournament title.

"It's a different feeling because our school's never won before," Tagliaferri said. "This is the first time a team at our school is going to feel this feeling. It feels good for all of the players who have played here, and it definitely sets opportunities for other people down the line."

Photo by Matt Manley

The goal on Halloween was the 23rd of the season for Tagliaferri, who has missed two separate stretches while leaving to train with the U.S. U-17 National Team. She finished with four goals in the tournament, including one each in wins over Wall and Freehold Township in the final two games.

With the half winding down and the game scoreless, senior center fullback Amanda Visco played a free kick over the top of the defense on a quick restart and Tagliaferri dribbled through the defense for a shot that Freehold Township goalkeeper Kaela Chadzuitko saved by leaping up and batting the ball back away from the goal. Tagliaferri, however, shook off a defender to recover the ball and fired a follow-up shot with Chadzuitko still recovering and slammed it into the far right corner.

"It stinks missing the first one, and she made a great save," Tagliaferri said. "Some people might get down on themselves after missing a shot like that, but I saw the goalie out and I just knew I had to keep my confidence up to finish the second one."

The Cougars closed out the win with another half of shutout soccer, slowing down a high-powered Freehold Township attack that scored five goals in a win over Rumson-Fair Haven in the semifinals. The effort included limiting chances for Freehold Township forwards Nicole Whitley (17 goals) and Jasmine Colbert (10 goals) while playing with three defenders on the back line.

"We definitely had to stay organized on Nicole Whitley and (Colbert) up top," Visco said. "(Colbert) was fast so we had to keep her in front of us and with Whitley, not let her turn and shoot."

"We've got to a point now where we're so balanced that we can frustrate teams," Colts Neck coach Doug Phillips said. "If it's a through-ball and there's high pressure, (the ball) is away Otherwise, we can get the ball at our feet and build. We just worked so much the last couple weeks on timing and defensive principles and footwork, and they just played it so well. They played awesome. With three (players) in the back, that's pretty good."

Colts Neck reached the 2014 SCT championship game and lost to Wall, 1-0, while Tagliaferri was in Florida with the national team. Her goal this year was the difference, as was a shutout by the defense in front of sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Feaster.

"Everybody had to do their job today, and they did," Visco said. "Having Frankie and Bridgette (King) up top, we know we are going to be dangerous, but it took everyone doing their job today to accomplish what we did, and thankfully Frankie was able to get a great goal."

The trip to the final was the second straight for Colts Neck - the first two appearances in less than two decades as a program. While Tagliaferri, a Penn State recruit, is the leading scorer and the headliner on the Cougars, Colts Neck laid the foundation for this championship with its current trio of seniors - Visco, King and midfielder Alli Russo.

"We've been working for this for four years now," Visco said. "We made it to the Shore Conference finals last year and didn't get the job done. We finally got it this year, and we worked so hard for it. We didn't want to feel the same way we did last year, so we knew we had to do it today."

"When we were closing out our halftime talk, Amanda stepped up and said, 'Girls, I've worked so hard - me, Alli and Bridgette - for this. We've worked so hard and put everything into this, we have to see this out,''' Phillips said. "She doesn't say much and she kind of lets her actions speak, so for her to even make it a statement, you can tell how much it meant to her and the other two girls."

The Cougars also lost 4-0 in the NJSIAA Group III final to Northern Highlands last year and will now embark on a state tournament run that they hope ends with a second straight trip to the Group final.

"This is beyond what I could have imagined for this group," Phillips said. "When (Meaghan) Mulligan came in (in 2010) and then (Halley) Cartas the next year and we made it to the Shore Conference semifinals and lost to Freehold Township in 2011, it kind of put us on the map and made us start to think that maybe we could start to compete year in and year out. But to think you're going to have a team like this that goes 18-0-1, goes to back-to-back Shore Conference finals and wins one, it's not something you ever really expect."