Girls Soccer – Point Beach Inches Closer, But Comes Up Short of Group 1 Final
SOMERSET -- Twenty-seven minutes into the NJSIAA Group I championship game, the Point Pleasant Beach girls soccer team was on its way to a second straight lopsided loss in a state final.
With a swing of the leg from their top scorer late in the first half, the Garnet Gulls got back in the game and while the comeback effort came up short, they proved over the final 40-plus minutes they are on the level of the top teams in Group I -- and with a chance to be even more in the future.
Baileigh Johnson's goal with 1:16 left in the first half turned the tide in Point Beach's favor, but Mountain Lakes had an answer each time the Garnet Gulls drew close and pulled out a 4-2 win to claim their second straight Group I championship.
"It's never good to end your season on a loss but everybody does it except for (six) teams," Point Beach coach Adam Curtis said. "You have to look at the positive side of things. We're getting closer. The girls had a fantastic season and they have nothing to be ashamed about. That's a very good team and we just couldn't get enough goals today."
A year ago, Mountain Lakes scored five unanswered goals before Point Beach salvaged one for itself in a 5-1 Lakers win in the 2022 Group I championship game. That match marked Point Beach's first foray ever into the state final round, and with the first time out of the way, this year's team -- loaded with talent from last year's first ever sectional championship team -- was prepared to compete, even if it did not completely show until the tail-end of the first half.
"It was been there, done that," Curtis said. "This wasn't a new experience this time and they played like they have been here. We just needed to finish a couple more times around the goal."
When Ashton Parker scored off a through-ball from Daisy Duda in the 27th minute to give Mountain Lakes a 2-0 lead, the Lakers were gashing the Point Beach defense, which only four minutes earlier got away with a breakdown in the back that allowed Abigail Hawes a breakaway. The Garnet Gulls caught a break when Hawes -- who also scored in the 16th minute off a pass from Parker for the first goal -- drilled the crossbar on her shot, keeping the score 1-0 in the 23rd minute.
"We knew they were fast and we couldn't let them get in behind us and they get in behind us," Curtis said. "The positive side is I knew once we started knocking the ball around we would get chances and were never really knocked the ball around in the first 20 to 25 minutes of the game. We were a little too frantic."
Once down 2-0, Point Beach turned its fortune around, starting with a strong finish to the first half that carried into the second half. The Garnet Gulls cut their deficit in half with a rip by sophomore Baileigh Johnson from the top of the 18-yard box that skipped into the lower left of the goal off a corner kick by sophomore Sophie Fogler.
"When Baileigh was able to get that corner kick and put it in, that was big," said Curtis, whose team trailed Shore Regional, 3-1, before coming back to win the Central Jersey Group I final. "Being able to go into halftime and say, 'This isn't even as bad as Shore.' I was confident and we got our chances. We just weren't clinical enough in front of the goal."
Johnson's goal with 1:16 left on the first-half clock gave Point Beach life heading into halftime, but Mountain Lakes poured cold water on the Garnet Gulls' excitement with a goal by Maya Ritchie off a cross from Duda in the 45th.
Still, the Garnet Gulls remained optimistic -- particularly in the light of their comeback win over Shore Regional in the Central Jersey Group I final in which the Garnet Gulls erase a 3-1 deficit to win.
Point Beach answered five minutes after Ritchie's goal with a strike from freshman Katie Kirchner off a feed from junior Samantha Miles, who knocked the ball over the Kirchner after a cross into the box. Kirchner struck the ball into the right side netting, with Mountain Lakes goalkeeper Shea Sutter getting a piece of the shot -- albeit not enough to stop it from going in.
"Our best defense against this team (Mountain Lakes) is offense," Curtis said. "We had to keep the ball better. Give our defense a chance to get organize and not be so frantic. Once we did that and started putting three and four passes together, the game slowed down enough to figure out where we were on the field."
Point Beach made a heavy push for the equalizer over the next eight minutes, before Mountain Lakes settled the game. The Lakers put the game on ice in the 79th minute, with Hawes finishing her second goal off another pass from Parker.
With only two seniors on this year's roster -- Lily Hesse and Audrey Akersten -- the Garnet Gulls are well-positioned to make their best bid for a state championship next fall.
"Unfortunately, we're going to lose two seniors, but that's all we lose," Curtis said. "We had some tough games this year and it's only going to make this group stronger and more dedicated work in the offseason and get better and get back to this."
Mountain Lakes 4, Point Beach 2
|Point Beach (15-4)||1||1||2|
|Mountain Lakes (15-7)||2||2||4|
Goals (Assists): (ML) Abigail Hawes (Ashton Parker) 16'; (ML) Ashton Parker (Daisy Duda) 27'; (PB) Baileigh Johnson (Sophie Fogler) 39'; (ML) Maya Ritchie (Daisy Duda); (PB) Katie Kirchner (Samantha Miles) 50'; (ML) Abigail Hawes (Ashton Parker) 79'
Shots: Mountain Lakes, 15-13
Saves: (PB) Mackenzie Highland 5; (ML) Shea Sutter 8