UNION - Sophomores Frankie McDonough and Hannah Birdsall remember what it was like to play and succeed as freshman forwards in the NJSIAA Tournament Group I Tournament and in that respect, both can relate to the run that freshman teammate Julia Eichenbaum has been on.

The trio also share something else in common after Saturday's Group I championship game against Glen Ridge at Kean University: they've never lost in the NJSIAA Tournament.

McDonough and Eichenbaum each scored a goal and Birdsall helped initiate two as the Blue Devils beat the Ridgers for the second straight year, 3-2, to capture their second consecutive Group I championship.

Photo by Matt Manley

"We lost eight seniors from last year, we lost our whole back line and most of our midfield," McDonough said. "After we played a few games, we started to jell together and as we kept playing and kept winning, we started to believe we could get far again. Once this game started, it was like we had all been here before. Go hard after everything and when you get a shot, you take the shot."

Eichenbaum forced an own goal to give Shore a 1-0 lead just 1:10 into the action and later slammed in an official goal in the 36th minute, giving her at least one goal in each of Shore's six NJSIAA Tournament games and eight total for the tournament.

"I've been kind of intimidated to keep the goal streak going because you never know when you're going to have an off game," Eichenbaum said. "All you ever want to do is to stay consistent every game, but it's been nerve-wracking. I was really nervous before this game."

"All three forwards work really well together," Birdsall said. "As the newer player in the group, Julia has stepped up and really fit in well with the both of us and really everybody on the team. It's very nerve-wracking playing as a freshman and I definitely felt for her. I've just reminded her to relax and play her game and she's done a really great job."

Shore grabbed the early lead on the heels of a counter-attack. Birdsall skipped a diagonal ball from the right sideline toward the far left post and Eichenbaum made the run to chase the ball down. She slid a shot that rolled across the mouth of the goal, toward the right post and while attempting to clear the ball off the line, a Glen Ridge defender knocked the ball into the goal.

The Ridgers responded exactly 22 minutes into the match off a corner kick, with Liz Hauschild heading the ball into the net from close range to finish the play.

Shore did not allow Glen Ridge to stay even for long and it was McDonough who gave the Blue Devils the lead for good in the 28th minute. The sophomore ran through a defender, beat a second defender to her right and unleashed a 25-yard strike to the upper right side of the goal to put Shore on top, 2-1.

"I didn't expect it to be tied again with the way we came out, but I knew we had to get another goal and after they scored, it was like, 'Okay, now we actually need to get another goal," McDonough said. "I got the ball a little bit outside the 18, I collided with this girl and I wasn't sure if (the referee) was going to call anything, but I didn't think it was a foul. I heard him say, 'No way,' so I kept going."

The Blue Devils added one more goal before halftime and it came off a corner kick by Birdsall. The sophomore bent a left-footed service toward the near side of the frame and Glen Ridge goalkeeper Victoria Woznick batted the ball off the near right post. The ball came down on the end line and Eichenbaum poked it into the side of the goal.

"We usually look for Devon (McDonough) in the box and we just got lucky that it went in the net," Birdsall said.

The goal by McDonough and off the Birdsall corner kick were similar to the two goals Shore scored in last year's 2-1 overtime win over Glen Ridge. McDonough opened the Shore scoring last year with another 25-yard strike and the Blue Devils won the game on a golden goal in overtime when Birdsall's corner kick found the goal in the third minute of the second overtime period.

"It was just like last year," McDonough said of her goal. "I saw the goal and I just hit it as best I could. I saw it go in and everyone started rushing over to me. And then the other goal, we know we're dangerous on corners, especially with Hannah and the way she can put the ball on goal."

Glen Ridge pulled back within a goal in the 52nd minute when Lindsay Jaiyesimi, in one motion, stole the ball from Shore goalkeeper Julia Valinoti and slid it to the lower left corner of the goal.

Although Glen Ridge made it close on the scoreboard, the Ridgers never pressured the Blue Devils over the final 28 minutes thanks to the Shore defense and senior defensive center midfielder Devon McDonough, who was a steady and, at times, dominant presence in the middle while her younger sister, Eichenbaum and Birdsall attacked the Glen Ridge goal.

"She's been really unselfish about her role and everyone has so much trust in her that if we miss a ball, she's going to pick us up and stop it," Frankie McDonough said of her older sister. "She's a really great captain to everyone, she's always there to motivate us before and during the game. As her sister, I know I can always count on her. She always has my back and I think everyone feels like that when she's on the field."

Along with midfielder Kelly Bolsch, Devon McDonough is one of only two senior starters in the Shore starting lineup, which puts this Blue Devils team in position to become a Group I dynasty. The Blue Devils have already appeared in five straight title games, with wins in the last two and a draw against Glen Ridge back in 2013.

"As a freshman, I really didn't think I would be getting any playing time, so it feels really good to be able to play and score and win a championship my first year," Eichenbaum said. "I was really nervous about playing in the playoffs, but we had Frankie and Hannah scoring a lot of goals and I was able to start scoring eventually and that made me more comfortable. Once I settled in, I felt like I was more a part of the team and I'm really glad I was able to contribute to winning a championship."


Box Score

Shore 3, Glen Ridge 2

1 2 F
Glen Ridge (16-7-1) 1 1 2
Shore (20-4) 3 0 3

Goals (Assists): (GR) Liz Hauschild (Colleen Grady) 22', Lindsay Jaiyesimi 52'; (S) Own goal 2', Frankie McDonough 28', Julia Eichenbaum (Hannah Birdsall) 36'
Shots: Shore, 11-4
Saves: (S) Julia Valinoti 1; (GR) Victoria Woznick 4

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