UNION TWP. – Like a lot of players would after scoring the biggest goal of his or her life, Shore Regional sophomore Julia Eichenbaum found the nearest teammate and jumped into her arms.

For Eichenbaum, it might have been as much out of necessity as pure jubilation because after the way she worked to figuratively carry Shore to the finish line Saturday in the NJSIAA Group I championship game against Glen Ridge at Kean University, she needed somebody to literally carry her.

With her team trailing by a goal in the final minutes, Eichenbaum scored the equalizer in the 77th and the game-winner with nine seconds left to cap a wild, come-from-behind, 5-4 win over the Ridgers and deliver the Blue Devils their third consecutive Group I championship.

“After I scored the first goal, we had a good feeling that we were going to score again,” Eichenbaum said. “We didn’t want it to go to overtime so we just kept fighting. It’s the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.”

After scoring the equalizer with 3:09 left on the clock to pull Shore even at 4-4, Eichenbaum started to look like a player who badly needed either the five minutes between regulation and overtime to catch her breath or for a teammate to score the winner. Instead, she found herself in a position to end the game in the final seconds and did not want to let it slip away.

“It was at a point when I just had to get my last touch on it,” Eichenbaum said of the winner. “I was at the (six-yard mark) and if I can touch the ball, it’s going to go in. I just tried to get my last foot on it. I was exhausted at that point, but I knew I had to at least try as hard as I could because that was the winning goal. That was the game.”

Junior Hannah Birdsall carried the ball toward the left-side touch line and crossed it into the middle of the 18-yard box, where Eichenbaum positioned herself against a pair of Glen Ridge defenders. She battled to set up a shot and after gaining some separation, unleashed a left-footed shot to the upper part of the goal from eight yards out with the scoreboard clock showing nine seconds remaining.

The goal gave Shore the lead while leaving Glen Ridge time for little more than a desperation service toward the goal and the Blue Devils began their third straight championship celebration.

“Julia’s two goals were amazing,” Birdsall said. “She definitely steps it up when it comes to the last minute.”

Before scoring the winner, Eichenbaum tied up the game in the 77th on a similar play, in which she fought off a pair of defenders for a ball played into the box by senior Kendall Rich and poked it past goalkeeper Victoria Wozniak.

Eichenbaum’s equalizer eliminated Shore’s second two-goal deficit of the game. Senior Lindsey Jaiyesimi scored her third goal of the game in the 56th minute to extend the Ridgers lead to 4-2, giving her team some much-needed breathing room against a Blue Devils team that dominated position and outshot Glen Ridge, 24-9.

“We just had to keep working hard,” Eichenbaum said. “We had to try to give it our all. We were all tired by the last few minutes, but we didn’t want to leave anything on the field.”

Shore did not take long, however, to pull back with one goal. Junior Frankie McDonough lined up a direct kick on the left side of the field just outside the 18-yard box and bent a 23-yard shot into the far right upper corner of the frame to cut the deficit to 4-3 in the 60th minute.

With her goal on Saturday, McDonough has scored a goal in each of Shore’s last three Group I championship games.

Birdsall has also been in the middle of critical plays in each of Shore’s three championship wins, but Saturday was her best showing yet. Shore scored on own goals in each of the past two championship games that started with corner kicks that Birdsall placed at the mouth of the goal. On Saturday, Birdsall officially got on the board with two goals of her own, plus the assist on Eichenbaum’s winner.

The junior forward hit a 30-yard shot to the upper 90 to tie the game at 1-1 just 1:18 after sophomore Tara Feenaghty gave the Ridgers their first lead on a penalty kick in the 17th minute, then later scored on a rebound in the 34th to cut Glen Ridge’s lead to 3-2. Eichenbaum took the initial shot on Birdsall’s second goal after McDonough played her through the back line.

“It’s definitely unforgettable – three years now being state champs is something I would have never imagined me doing in a high school career,” Birdsall said. “Everyone from the defense, to the goalie, all the way up to the forwards gave it everything they had.”

With Saturday’s win, Shore also clinched its third straight 20-win season and evened the series vs. Glen Ridge at 3-1-1 over the last six years. The Blue Devils have played in the last six Group I finals and Glen Ridge has played the Blue Devils in five of them. The Ridgers went 1-0-1 in the first three before Shore won each of the last three years, with the two Group I rivals sharing the title in 2013.

Eichenbaum, Birdsall and McDonough are all set to return next year to try to make it four in a row. The Blue Devils started only three seniors on Saturday – Rich, center midfielder Sophie Hauritz and defender Maddie Agresti.

“It’s a great feeling to have the opportunity to play on this team and be one of those players that helps win games and championships,” said Eichenbaum, who is committed to play at the University of Illinois. “Not many people get a chance to play for a great team like Shore and I’m just very grateful for having this opportunity to be one of those great players and having the chance to play with other great players.”

 

Box Score

Shore 5, Glen Ridge 4

1 2 F
Glen Ridge (15-4-1) 3 1 4
Shore (20-4-1) 2 3 5

 

Goals (Assists): (GR) Tara Feenaghty (PK) 17’, Lindsey Jaiyesimi 21’, Lindsey Jaiyesimi 33’, Lindsey Jaiyesimi (Sydney Mansfield) 56’; (S) Hannah Birdsall 18’, Hannah Birdsall (Julia Eichenbaum) 34’, Frankie McDonough (DK) 60’, Julia Eichenbaum (Kendall Rich) 77’, Julia Eichenbaum (Hannah Birdsall) 80’
Shots: Shore, 24-9
Saves: (GR) Victoria Wozniak 13; (S) Julia Valinoti 4

 

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