MIDDLETOWN - Just one year ago, the Middletown North girls soccer team traveled across town to play rival Middletown South and returned to the North side of town with an 8-0 record - part of a 16-game winning streak to start what turned out to be a 21-2, championship season for the Lions.

On Monday night, it was Middletown South that made the trip to play its rival while also protecting a perfect start to the season. After falling behind early, the Eagles rallied to keep their answer to Middletown North's dream season alive.

Junior Katie Coyle scored the tying goal in the 16th minute and senior center back Filomena DeGregorio complemented a strong defensive game with a game-winning goal in the 35th as the Eagles stormed past the rival Lions, 2-1, to win their 10th straight match to open 2019.

Middletown South senior Filomena DeGregorio. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"It's starting to feel like we have a target on our back, especially today against our rivals," Coyle said. "We have been doing a good job taking it one game at a time. That's been our mantra all year - just focus on the team we're playing and obviously, this was a game we were excited to play."

Middletown South is only two years removed from reaching the 2017 NJSIAA Group III championship game, which it lost to Allentown, 2-1. Even that season was nothing like this one has been - this year's team already has as many wins as the 2017 team had entering the state tournament.

"When we saw what we (the coaching staff) had at the beginning of the year and how well the girls were working together, we thought this could be a special group," Middletown South coach Megan Barry said. "After going to the state final two years ago and having kind of a disappointing year last year, we didn't totally know what to expect when we started the year but the girls showed us pretty early on that they have great chemistry and they work really hard."

Along with fellow seniors Emma and Madyson Laudisi, DeGregorio was one of three standout sophomores on the state finalist team and the four-year varsity starter put her skills on display Monday. The senior center back watched her defense give up an early goal to Middletown North senior standout Darien Rinn, then shut down that end of the field for the rest of the match.

"Our defense has been very strong," DeGregorio said. "Me and (sophomore center back Meghan Carragher) have been working well together. We are really good friends off the field, we both play high-level soccer outside of high school and I think that really helps when we get out there and have to play against good forwards."

With the score tied at 1-1 late in the first half, DeGregorio pushed up and made an impact on the scoreboard. Sophomore Angie Shekian chased down the ball near the right sideline after a corner kick and slid it back toward the middle. DeGregorio lined up a 20-yard shot and buried it to the far left corner of the goal.

DeGregorio's goal followed the equalizer by Coyle in the 16th minute - a header on a long service by sophomore center back Meghan Carragher.

"It seemed like (Middletown North) took their foot off the gas a little bit after they scored," Coyle said. "When we sensed that, we started attacking and really going after them and we didn't want to let up."

Coyle nearly had a hat trick, missing a close range shot midway through the first half and getting denied on a great save by Lions junior Ellie Kacen. Coyle later initiated the last goal of the game in the 49th minute, which was officially an own goal. She sent a corner kick into the box and the ball came back out to her. The junior played it back to the far side of the 18-yard box, where a Lions defender knocked it just over the goal-line.

Rinn stuck Middletown South in a 1-0 hole with her eighth goal in eight games. Classmate Katelyn Reid slipped the ball through the back line and Rinn beat the back line before finishing the game's first goal 4:40 into the match.

The 1-0 deficit marked the third time Middletown South has trailed this season. The Eagles trailed Allentown, 1-0, at halftime before scoring twice in the second half to win, 2-1. They also conceded a second-half goal to Red Bank Catholic before equalizing in regulation and winning the game in overtime.

"No one stops, no one puts their head down," DeGregorio said. "We know we can do it and we just keep going until we push through and get one to win the game."

After catching fire in the 2017 state tournament and missing the Shore Conference Tournament during an 8-9-4 2018 season, Middletown South is putting together its most consistent run of winning soccer in quite some time.

"We know that can do something great," DeGregorio said. "We have the right energy, we have the right chemistry and if we keep working together, we can get it all."

 

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