Girls Soccer- Santiago Scores Twice, Freehold Township Wins Back-to-Back Group IV Titles
SOMERSET -- The 2023 season did not follow the script the Freehold Township girls soccer team had established for itself during a dominant two-year run leading up to this year, but on Sunday in the NJSIAA Group 4 championship game, the Patriots proved they can still write a perfect ending.
In a fitting end to one of the best three-year runs in Shore Conference history, Freehold Township defeated Ridgewood, 3-0, to win its second straight Group IV championship. Senior Hailey Santiago, who missed a portion of the season to injury, scored two goals for the Patriots.
The Patriots wasted no time getting out in front of the No. 5 team in the state, scoring seven minutes into the game. Junior Gaby Parker found Santiago making a run on the outside and beat Ridgewood goalie Katie Bisgrove far post.
“I was upset I had to miss out on those games,” Santiago said. “I had to look to the future because I can not control getting hurt. I put the focus on when I can play and what I can win.”
Freehold Township came close to adding a second goal in the 14th minute, when Parker headed a cross from junior Danielle Howard that hit the post.
Ridgewood was able escape that threat and then counter to create one of its best chances of the game. Ridgewood was awarded a free-kick from 30 yards away that Freehold Township deflected out of bounce after a scramble in the box.
On the Ridgewood corner kick, UCLA commit Isabella Winn put the ball into the box and it bounced off several players and Winn won the ball back and blasted a shot that Patriots junior goalkeeper Ashley Moore saved.
“Nothing rattles her at all,” said Freehold Township coach Dave Patterson about Moore. “She likes being part of the action and that gets her energy up. When the moments are the biggest, that is when Ashley steps up.”
Freehold Township gave itself a cushion in the 33rd minute off a cross from senior Ainsley Moy that deflected off a Ridgewood defender and snuck into the goal. Santiago played the ball ahead to Moy, who turned the corner along the left end-line and struck the dangerous cross.
Ridgewood came close once more before the end of the half when Winn ripped a shot from 25 yards out, but it hit the crossbar and bounced down for Moore to grab.
The Patriots came out of halftime applying pressure and in the 45th minute, Santiago scored her second goal off a through-ball from Howard, finishing inside the near right post to make the game 3-0.
“Hailey has been a big part of everything we have done since she has been here,” said Patterson, whose team lost all three of its games this season while Santiago was injured. “To see her shine in this moment was good to see because of all the time she missed.”
Ridgewood would create a scoring chance in the 57th minute with what appeared to be an open look on goal, but Chloe Walters came across the field to clear the ball out of danger. Senior Cassidy Corcione, who played the first half of her of her career on the offensive side of the ball, made several plays clearing the ball out of danger throughout the second half as the Patriots left outside back.
Corcione was the statewide Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2021, when she scored 23 goals to go with 15 assists for a Freehold Township team that went 22-1-1 and entered the Group IV final without a loss. Last year, the Michigan State commit missed the entirety of her junior season while recovering from a torn ACL.
This season, Corcione began the season playing up top, but eventually settled in at outside back for a Patriots team that possessed ample firepower up top with Santiago and Parker and in the midfield with Moy and Howard. She completed her senior season with nine goals and 10 assists.
“She (Corcione) was a vocal leader on the back-line from day one that we definitely benefited from,” Patterson said. “She made sure everyone was keeping their shape and it showed in the biggest moments today. She was a big part of what we did out there.”
Freehold Township would not allow any chances over the final 15 minutes of the game on their way to sealing back-to-back Group 4 titles. The graduating seniors left their mark in the Shore Conference, playing in three straight state finals after winning a modified sectional title during the COVID-shortened 2020 season as freshmen. They also won back-to-back Shore Conference Tournaments in 2021 and 2022 and will send three players -- Corcione, Santiago (Florida Atlantic) and Moy (Texas Christian) will play Division I soccer next year.
“The summer workouts all in the beginning lead to now,” Corcione said. “You learn to make the most out of your time because it goes by so fast. We made friendships and we left it all on the field no matter if it was a win or a loss.”