UNION - The Middletown South girls soccer team put together one of the most impressive runs of any team in the NJSIAA Tournament this year, but the Eagles' memorable season will not be a banner one.

Allentown senior Carly Roche scored the go-ahead goal in the 69th minute of Saturday's NJSIAA Group III final and the Cardinals outlasted Middletown South, 2-1, to win their first ever group championship.

Middletown South, meanwhile, settled for runner-up after making its first run to the Group III title game since winning the co-title in 2000 - the second of two straight trips to the Group III championship.

"I think we were happy to be here and happy to have the success we had this season," third-year Middletown South head coach Megan Barry said. "I don't think this was expected by a lot of people, by anyone, really."

Middletown South senior Grace Massell. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Middletown South senior Grace Massell. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Coming off an upset of Northern Highlands - the No. 1 team in the state at the time - on Tuesday, Middletown South fell behind 1-0 in the first half but battled back in the second and pulled even in the 53rd. Senior Christina Sundt lined up a shot from 25 yards out and drilled an upper-90 strike into the back of the net to even up the score at 1-1.

The Eagles held the edge in chances and possession during the first 28 minutes of the second half, but Allentown remained dangerous when it did attack and cashed in on a chance with 11:05 left to play. Roche took a pass from freshman Olivia Ricci, dribbled to her left, turned her hips and fired a left-footed shot to the lower left of the goal.

Now needing a goal, Middletown South pressed forward and applied some pressure, but the Eagles' best chances at a second goal came before Roche's go-ahead score. Senior Rachael Hudson hit a shot just over the crossbar in the 64th minute, while seniors Grace Massell and Luciana Powell each made dangerous runs.

"I thought they played fantastic soccer," Barry said of her Middletown South team. "I thought that they had a nice possession game, they were hard in on their tackles. Unfortunately, we were missing the net by a hair here or a hair there and it just didn't go our way."

Senior goalkeeper Gabby Cook also came through with a save on a shot by Allentown leading scorer Emma Pascarella that as similar to Roche's game-winner.

Allentown jumped ahead in the 32nd minute on a goal by Marin Hartshorn off a corner kick by Pascarella. Just as they did in a 4-3, overtime win over top-seeded Somerville in the sectional semifinals, the Eagles recovered from an early one-goal deficit to pull even.

"We have responded to being down all season, especially in the Somerville game," Barry said. "I reminded them of that game. We went down a goal on a penalty kick, we came back, went down again and won the game. I also told them to look at the other Shore Conference teams today. Shore was losing by two goals, Wall was losing by a goal and both of them came back to win. There is absolutely no reason we couldn't do this."

The Eagles began the tournament as the No. 5 seed in North Jersey Section 2 Group III and scored a win over the aforementioned Northern Highlands - which had appeared in six consecutive group finals before losing to Middletown South.

Middletown South's season also included a 1-1 draw against Wall, which entered Saturday the No. 1 team in N.J. and won the Group II championship.

"We have a group of seniors who a few years ago, I met them as sophomores and said, 'Let's change the culture of this program - you and me, together,'" Barry said. "We're  living and breathing soccer and pushing ourselves to get better physically and tactically.

"I'm so overwhelmed by the group of girls we have and how appreciative they are of what we've accomplished. I'm just sad that it's over, even though there weren't any more games we could play past today. I just wish there was more because I just love being on the field with these kids."


Box Score

Allentown 2, Middletown South 1

Midd South (14-6-5)011
Allentown (22-1)112

Goals (Assists): (MS) Christina Sundt (Emily McCarthy) 53'; (A) Marin Hartshorn (Emma Pascarella) 32', Carly Roche (Olivia Ricci) 69'
Shots: Allentown, 13-9
Saves: (MS) Gabby Cook 3; (A) Abby Howell 3


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