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UNION TWP. - Two years ago, Julia Eichenbaum led a furious comeback that gave Shore Regional its third straight NJSIAA Group I championship, so when the Blue Devils fell behind early Saturday in the Group I championship against Mountain Lakes, Eichenbaum - now a senior - knew her team was never out of it.

But as the Lakers continued to tack on and buried the Blue Devils in a four-goal deficit, the task became too tall for Eichenbaum and her team.

Mountain Lakes scored four unanswered goals - including three in the first half - and Shore's comeback effort was too little, too late in a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Lakers. The victory gives Mountain Lakes its first overall state title while cooling off a Shore team that coasted to the final.

"Obviously, we're devastated," Eichenbaum said. "We worked so hard to get here. We wanted this so bad but what happens, happens. We can't control everything in the game. We worked hard for this but Mountain Lakes clearly worked hard and it showed in the end result."

In the 11th minute, Mountain Lakes opened the scoring to deal Shore its first deficit of the state tournament. Erin O'Neil pushed up from the back line, elevated over the defense, and headed in a corner kick by Alexa Krause.

Less than 10 minutes later, the Lakers extended their lead when a free kick bounced back out to the top of the box, where Abby Maute ripped a shot to the lower left for a 2-0 lead.

Two years ago, Shore scored three times in the final 20 minutes to erase a 4-2 deficit and beat Glen Ridge, 5-4, in the Group I final. The Blue Devils were still in Saturday's game in the final minutes of the first half, but Kimmi Klingener dealt Shore a huge blow when she tracked down a ball on the left side of the box and ripped a finish to the far post for a 3-0 lead in the 38th.

"We talked about it at halftime," Eichenbaum said. "We were like, 'Okay, there are 40 minutes left, let's try our hardest because we have come back before. When we started getting the hang of things, by that point it was too late, but we tried."

Grace Willis extended the lead to 4-0 in the 49th off a cross from Henna Andican.

Even while facing an seemingly insurmountable deficit, Shore kept attacking. Eichenbaum earned a penalty kick in the 62nd by drawing a foul at the edge of the box, but senior Meli Pekmezian ripped the ensuing kick off the bottom of the crossbar to keep Shore scoreless.

The Blue Devils finally broke through in the 74th when Eichenbaum converted a direct kick from 23 yards out - her 35th goal of the season and 107th of her career.

Sophomore Lauren Saponaro added a goal in the 77th on a 16-yard strike to the far left corner of the goal. The two Shore goals were part of a onslaught of shots over the final 30 minutes, during which Shore outshot Mountain Lakes, 17-1. Shore finished with a 26-10 shot advantage and a 10-9 edge in shots on goal.

Eichenbaum routinely faced triple teams once the ball found her feet but the Illinois commit remained dangerous throughout the game. She broke free for a breakaway in the 17th minute but Mountain Lakes goalkeeper Nicole Caldarone denied her from short range.

"It was difficult but I have dealt with a lot harder considering freshman year I was playing against girls four years older than me," Eichenbaum said. "The whole season, I have had at least one or two people on my back at all times. Obviously, it was a challenge, but it was what I'm used to."

Eichenbaum will graduate as Shore's second all-time leading scorer, finishing two goals behind former teammate and 2019 graduate Frankie McDonough.

With Eichenbaum graduating along with Pekmezian, forward Sydney Sears, center backs Jules Brinton and Eliza Ford, midfielder Chloe Wollman and goalkeeper Moira Hegglin, Shore will turn its squad over to a sophomore core led by Saporano, Barbara Grimm, Rori McDonough and Clara Ford. Junior starters Tara Mendillo and Cassie Desantis will also be due back in the fold as seniors in 2020.

"I don't think it's sunk in that it's my last high school game and the last one for the other seniors," Eichenbaum said. "Obviously, there are bigger things coming on the field and off the field for all of us but for the (senior) girls that aren't playing in college, this was probably their last game of competitive soccer. That is pretty devastating to think about but I think when I look at this game and this season, I can learn from my mistakes.

"I felt this feeling last year against Audubon (in the Group I semifinals) and at least we made it to this point this year. We were definitely not expected to make it this far so being here with my team was really special."

 

Box Score

Mountain Lakes 4, Shore 2

12F
Shore (16-6)022
Mountain Lakes (19-7)314

Goals (Assists): (S) Julia Eichenbaum (DK) 74', Lauren Saponaro 77'; (ML) Erin O'Neil (Alexa Krause) 11', Abby Maute 20', Kimmi Klingener 38', Grace Willis (Henna Andican) 49'
Shots: Shore, 26-10
Saves: (S) Moira Hegglin 5; (ML) Nicole Caldarone 8

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