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By Liz Matakevich
Shore Sports Network Contributor

The Central Regional girls soccer team came into the Shore Conference Tournament under the radar as the No. 13 seed, but now the Golden Eagles have everyone’s attention.

Central's Amanda Carolan (right) and Lindsey Mahnkin celebrate another upset win for the Golden Eagles, who will play in their first ever SCT final on Saturday night. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

After defeating defending champions Toms River North in the round of 16 and No. 5 Holmdel in the quarterfinal round, Central won its biggest game yet by beating top-seeded Freehold Boro, 2-0, at Memorial Field in Neptune Wednesday to advance to program's first ever SCT final.

“My girls definitely came into this tournament wanted to show everyone they can play with the top teams,” Central coach Kristee Paknis said. “It’s pretty amazing to come here and show off our talent and come out with a win to go into the final round.

“I am excited beyond belief for us to be making history. I just keep stressing to the girls to take it in, take in every moment, because there are a lot of girls who wish they were in your position.”

Junior forward Amanda Carolan scored both Central goals in the first five minutes of the second half to stun the Colonials. The goals were Carolan’s 27th and 28th of the season, with seven of those goals coming in the tournament.

“It was one of the best moments of my life to be honest,” Carolan said. “We don’t get many chances like this and we don’t always have the recognition that we deserve, but we use that as fuel to prove everyone wrong.”

In the 42nd minute, Carolan stole the ball from a Freehold defender in the backfield, and with only the goalie between her and the net, she was able to strike the ball on the ground, tucking it into the back of the net to give her team a 1-0 lead on the Colonials.

Carolan was not finished yet.

Three minutes later in the 45th minute, she once again got past a defender and made a move past goalkeeper Meghan Hurler for an easy shot into the back of the net to put them up 2-0, changing the tide of the game completely.

“Amanda is an amazing player,” Paknis said. “Her speed, her touch, she never gives up, and every ball a defender has is an opportunity to her to get a goal.”

Freehold went into panic mode after the second goal by Central, looking to close in on the deficit. Emma Smith hit a hard shot on net in the 74th minute, but goalkeeper Lindsey Mahnkin was there to make a huge diving save to push the ball out of bounds. Smith would come right back in the 75th with another shot, and once again, Mahnkin made the save to keep the shutout alive.

“I do better when we play good competition,” Mahnkin said. “This entire tournament I kept thinking if we lose, we lose, but winning means so much to us, and it felt amazing to help my team.”

Mahnkin had six saves for Central while Hurler made four for Freehold. Each team took seven shots.

Freehold came out of the gate looking strong in the first half. Sophomore Jenna Huskey made an early pass to SaraGrace Johnson for a shot inside the box in the third minute, but Mahnkin was there to make the save. Johnson had a breakaway up the left side in the 18th minute with a strong shot across the net but it hit the post and went out of bounds.

Central only had a few opportunities in the first half to get a shot off on net. Carolan dribbled the ball up to the net and got a shot off in the second minute, but it was saved by Hurler. Elizabeth Kroon stole a ball from a defender in the 29th minute to get a shot off near the net, but it went out of bounds.

The Golden Eagles will play perennial power Red Bank Catholic Saturday in their first ever finals experience. The sixth-seeded Caseys knocked off No. 2 Toms River South in overtime in the first game Wednesday and also upset No. 3 Freehold Township in a shootout on Monday. Red Bank Catholic last reached the final in 2010, when it won its third of three straight championships.

“We’re so excited to make history,” Carolan said. “Coming in as the underdog just gave us so much motivation to shut out the higher seeds. Every practice we said we wanted to show them what we’re made of, and we have done that.”

Box Score

Central 2, Freehold 0

1 2 F
Central (15-1) 0 2 2
Freehold (16-3) 0 0 0

Goals (Assists): Carolan 42', Carolan 45'
Shots: Tied, 7-7
Saves: (C) Mahkin 6; (F) Hurler 4