Girls Soccer – Freehold Twp. Earns Second Straight Trip to Shore Conference Tournament Final
NEPTUNE -- The Freehold Township girls soccer team has made a routine of running opponents out of the game with its quick-strike attack, particularly at the outset of the second halves of its matches.
As the minutes passed by in Wednesday night's Shore Conference Tournament semifinal against fifth-seeded St. John Vianney, the underdog Lancers -- trailing by one goal -- were not allowing the top-seeded Patriots to pull away and entered the final five minutes within a strike of tying the game and keeping the hope of an upset alive.
Then, within the blink of an eye, Freehold Township finally landed its one-two punch, knocked out a game St. John Vianney side, and clinched a spot in the SCT final for a second straight season.
"We knew we were a better team than them and we needed way more energy," junior forward Hailey Santiago said. "Coming out in the first half, we didn't have as much energy as we wanted to and we needed to pick it up and find a way to score."
After Santiago got Freehold Township started with a goal in the 11th minute, sophomore Gaby Parker and junior Shea Jackson connected on the clinchers in the final five minutes as the Patriots topped St. John Vianney, 3-0, to reach Saturday's championship game against No. 6 Howell.
Freehold Township's long haul toward a second-half goal was not entirely urgent because of its early goal to make the score 1-0. Santiago missed a quality look in the seventh minute that could have opened the scoring even earlier and she was sure not to let another opportunity slip away when it came. Senior defensive center midfielder and Villanova commit Gabby Koluch served a free kick into the box and after a St. John Vianney defender knocked it down, Santiago read the bounce, beat everyone to the ball and finished from inside the six-yard box for the game's first goal.
"As soon as I miss the first one, I just want it more next time," Santiago said. "It gives me more drive to score."
St. John Vianney held off heavy pressure from the Patriots for the remainder of the first half and most of the second, but a foul that knocked Santiago to the ground drew a yellow card set up a free kick in the 75th minute. Senior midfield and Princeton University commit Kayla Wong placed her free kick to the back post and Parker elevated over the throng and headed it in for a 2-0 Patriots lead.
"As soon as they started fouling us -- that last one was crazy -- we all gave 100 percent and that's what we needed," Santiago said. "We scored a goal on a free kick using the momentum that they gave us."
Jackson capped the scoring less than two minutes later by burying a shot from the left side of the field to the far side netting.
St. John Vianney managed four shots on frame against Freehold Township sophomore Ashley Moore, but the Patriots goalkeeper handled them without much trouble. On the other side, Lancers senior goalkeeper Katie Webb saved seven shots an her effort, plus the defensive discipline in the back, kept St. John Vianney within striking distance for almost the entire game.
Freehold Township has steamrolled the Shore Conference during its 14-1 start to the season, which includes a loss only to nationally-ranked Archbishop Spalding of Maryland.
Against teams from New Jersey, Freehold Township is 14-0 with only four goals allowed. One of those shutouts was a 3-0 win at Howell on Oct. 6 and the Patriots will look to duplicate that performance on Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium in Neptune, where they will try to capture a second straight Shore Conference Tournament title. Freehold Township will try to join Colts Neck, Red Bank Catholic, St. Rose and Middletown North as the fifth team to repeat as champion.
Red Bank Catholic and Middletown North each won three straight conference titles and with Parker, Santiago, Texas Christian University commit Ainsley Moy and Clemson University commit Cassidy Corcione all due back in 2023, a third straight title is a realistic possibility.
"It's so exciting," Santiago said. "Losing last year (in the Group IV final) was terrible and we want to win every single thing we won last year and more."