Girls Soccer – Westfield Stuns Freehold Twp. on Last-Second Goal in Group IV Final
UNION TWP. -- Under fire for the last 15 minutes of the NJSIAA Group IV championship game -- one that featured two undefeated teams with the top two rankings in the state -- the Freehold Township girls soccer team was fending off a push from Westfield just trying to get to the five-minute break between the end of regulation and overtime.
Much to the shock and chagrin of the Patriots players, that break never came.
Westfield junior Alyssa Martinez scored a game-winning goal that just barely crossed the end line with eight seconds left and the Blue Devils -- ranked No. 2 in N.J. by NJ Advance Media -- defeated the No. 1 Freehold Township in stunning fashion to win the Group IV championship, complete an undefeated season and secure the No. 1 ranking in New Jersey to finish the 2021 season.
"This hurts right now," Freehold Township coach Dave Patterson said. "It's terrible. Westfield is a very good team and we were right there. We had chances and it just didn't go our way. I feel bad for our players but I'm just so proud of these girls."
Freehold Township's bid for an undefeated season went down to the final seconds of the final minute of the final game of the 2021 season and that bid ended at the hands of another undefeated side and at the foot of a junior forward who anxiously watched as her shot crossed the line in the hands of Freehold Township freshman goalkeeper Ashley Moore.
The game-winning sequence began on a counter-attack led by senior Kelly Sullivan who advanced the ball up to Martinez. Martinez played a give-and-go with junior Chiara Cosenza, getting the ball back on the right side of the field and cutting it back toward the near post.
With time winding down, Martinez took her shot, and while Moore got her hands on the ball, it was high and hard enough that the ball nicked the crossbar. Moore held onto the ball, but her momentum carried her over the end line to make it a game-winning goal for Martinez in the final seconds.
"I remember watching it, trying to get it over the goalie," Martinez said. "Before I went to the ground, I thought it didn't go in. Then, I got back up from being on the ground, and I just see the goalie with the ball in her hands in the goal and I hear everyone cheering, and I'm like, 'Oh my god, I just scored.'"
"Not just today, but her effort all year long was outstanding," Patterson said of Moore. "She didn't play like a freshman from the first game all the way until tonight. She stepped up big for us and her confidence was incredible all season. It sucks that it had to end like it did because it doesn't reflect how she played and how we played all year long."
Freehold Township controlled the play for the first 60 minutes but over the final 20, Westfield began to mount a threat while taking Freehold Township out of its rhythm. The Patriots had a 9-4 edge in shots past the midway point of the second half, but their shots were mostly from beyond the top of the 18-yard box.
Freehold Township midfielders Ainsley Moy, Kayla Wong and Gabby Koluch dominated their portion of the pitch through 55 minutes of play and sophomore Cassidy Corcione caused havoc all over the field, particularly in the first half.
"Throughout the game, there were glimpses from both teams, as far as them doing really well, and then us doing really well," Martinez said. "It was them getting a chance, then us getting a chance. Towards the end, it started to feel like us getting a chance, then us getting a chance, then us getting a chance, then they get a chance, then we get another two or three. So we started to sense that we had the momentum and we just tried to stay on them until we finally got the goal."
Over the final 15 minutes, however, it was the Blue Devils that won the midfield and the majority of 50-50 balls after dealing with Freehold Township's dynamic attack for most of the game. In the final 20 minutes, Westfield dominated possession and outshot Freehold Township, 8-1.
"Maybe we got a little bit tired," Patterson said. "They were winning more of the fifty-fifty balls and that allowed them more space in the middle of the field. We know the middle of the field is very dangerous, just like ours is, but because they were able to get some space out there, they started to build some momentum.
"It would have been nice to make it to overtime and have those five minutes to reset mentally, but it didn't work out that way. I couldn't be prouder of our girls. They fought until literally the last second."
While Freehold Township flashed plenty of quality possession and some solid strikes during the first half, Westfield avoided any dangerous chances by the opposition. Freehold Township's most dangerous chance was a 20-yard, left-footed rip by Moy that skipped wide of the right post.
On a slew of Freehold Township's would-be shots, Westfield defenders got a leg on the ball to block or deflect them.
Freehold Township freshman forward Gaby Parker returned to the field Sunday after leaving Wednesday's game at Toms River North with a back bruise that put her status for the championship game in jeopardy. Despite showing discomfort throughout the game, Parker played the whole game in her usual spot up top opposite sophomore teammate Hailey Santiago.
"Gaby Parker is a warrior out there," Patterson said. "Right after that happened, I didn't know if she was going to be able to go today. When I saw her the next day, she said, 'There is no way I'm not playing.'"
Patterson acknowledged Sunday's loss will stick with his Freehold Township through the entire offseason and perhaps much longer, and with all but two starters set to return and only three seniors -- starting center back Kelsey Gilroy, starting outside back Lexi Konstantinidis and Carly Shein -- almost everyone on the 2022 roster will have been on the field at Kean to witness and feel the loss.
In total, Freehold Township will return 96 of its 100 goals scored this season next year, when the Patriots will try to make another run at the No. 1 ranking in the state -- a standing they held for the majority of the season.
"We're going to honor our seniors, who played their last game," Patterson said. "But when we start to turn the page towards the next couple years, we have a lot of younger players who will be coming back, so we have to make sure every time we go out there, we play the full 80 or the full 100, so we don't put ourselves in situations like this again.
"This is something that we're going to remember for a long time and it's going to fuel us to be better and do better. Yes, I'm proud, but no, we won't be satisfied with the way this season ended."