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UNION TWP. -- With only two seniors in its starting lineup and three on the entire roster, it was an accomplishment just for the Red Bank Catholic girls soccer team to get to the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game.

At the final whistle Saturday at Kean University, however, the Caseys still felt the sting of losing the final game of the year, even as the majority of the RBC players can turn their attention to finishing its championship pursuit in 2022.

Red Bank Catholic pieced together possession and generated its share of chances at breaking onto the scoreboard Sunday, but could not crack the Immaculate Heart Academy defense in a 2-0 loss in the Non-Public A championship.

"I’m not disappointed in our effort," Red Bank Catholic coach Frank Lawrence said. "Obviously, you want to win your last game, but getting to this game is the objective at the beginning of the season. You want to play in the last game of the year and only six teams win their last game of the year, so this is always a possibility when you make it this far.

"In this moment, they can’t see the totality of the season. They will eventually and that’s what we’ll talk about at our banquet. They got to this point. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to have a shot at the Shore Conference and we want to be here on the last day and that was the objective. It doesn’t always work out."

Sunday's championship game started in similar fashion as Friday's South Non-Public A championship game did for RBC. The Caseys fell behind, 1-0, in the 12th minute Friday against St. John Vianney and on Sunday, it was in the 10th minute that IHA broke onto the scoreboard.

The difference in the two scenarios was that St. John Vianney dominated the first 15 minutes of Friday's game in taking the 1-0 lead, while RBC controlled possession and play for most of the first half, only to surrender a tide-turning set piece in the 10th minute.

Junior Lindsay Ford took the long free kick and the ball wound up at the feet of sophomore Lindsay Probst, who struck a shot into the lower right corner of the goal for a 1-0 Blue Eagles lead.

Red Bank Catholic turned up its attack in the final 10 minutes of the first half and headed into intermission with a 6-3 edge in shots despite the one-goal deficit.

"We did say don’t give up set pieces, because they (IHA) are dangerous on set pieces," Lawrence said. "That ball goes into a gigantic pile of people and just rolls out right to their player. Those are just odd plays that happen and that took a lot out of us and that’s unfortunate."

During the second half, Red Bank Catholic continued with its advantage in possession, but IHA grew increasingly dangerous on its counter-attacks and finally cashed in on one of them.

In the 56th minute, senior Olivia Salkowsky carried the ball up the left side and slid a pass to sophomore Caitlin Forshay inside the near-end of the 18-yard box. Forshay turned and fired a perfectly-place low strike to the far lower right corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead.

Any chance for RBC to rally was snuffed out by the Blue Eagles defense and junior goalkeeper Noelle Haskell, who not only defended against four RBC shots on goal but minimized the number of rebound opportunities for the Caseys, who did their part by crashing on initial shots.

The one save that Haskell had to parry came in the 71st minute, when RBC senior forward Morgan Cupo hammered a shot from 18-yards out that Haskell saved with a diving attempt to her right.

"Whenever we had a player get the ball, they were double-teaming it hard and we just didn’t move the ball quite quickly enough to get those opportunities," Lawrence said. "A lot of credit goes to their defense and their goaltender, especially toward the end, made a couple of spectacular plays. That’s the way the game goes sometimes."

Cupo and goalkeeper Cleo Grignard are the two senior starters the Caseys will have to replace next season and RBC will also say goodbye to senior Abby Najdzinowicz, who missed the 2021 season due to injury.

Both Cupo and Grignard have been starters at RBC for multiple seasons, including on the Caseys' 2019 Shore Conference Tournament championship team. Cupo is a four-year starter who finished her career with 69 goals and 31 assists.

Najdzinowicz had strong showings in her sophomore and junior seasons before losing her senior season to injury. In two varsity seasons with the Caseys, she accumulated 12 goals and 14 assists.

"It’s hard because those two and Abby, who was out the entire year, have been phenomenal," Lawrence said. "I couldn’t ask for anything more from them. As sophomores, they won a Shore Conference championship. As freshmen, they were in the finals. There have only been three Shore Conference Tournaments in their four years and they were in at least the semifinals every single one of them.

"I feel badly for them because, of course, you want them to go off on a positive note, but I think they’ll understand in time what a great season and what great careers they had here."

Although RBC will lose Cupo's team-leading 16 goals and nine assists, the Caseys return a pair of big offensive players in sophomore forward Mya King and junior Gianna Romeo, as well as an impact midfielders in junior Noel Pauwels and sophomore Mia Gonzalez. Throw in a full back line led by sophomore Jyvanna Harris and Sophia Racioppi and the Caseys will be a factor come tournament time, 2022.

For now, however, they will look to shake off the bitter ending to an otherwise strong season that saw the Caseys again reach the semifinals of a loaded Shore Conference Tournament and win a South Jersey Non-Public A championship for the first time since 2016.

"We had two seniors on the team and we dealt with a lot of injuries," Lawrence said. "I had three or four kids on the field today who probably shouldn’t have been out there. But they gutted it out and they're tough. It's hard on these kids but most of them are going to be back next year."


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