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Freehold Township might have seemed a sure bet to win the Shore Conference Tournament championship when the tournament began, but the Patriots have learned over the last calendar year that there are no sure things.

They learned that as talented as the 2021 team was, it could be beaten. In finding that out, they also learned that a freshman goalkeeper could make a great save, secure the ball and still not keep it from crossing the goal line in the final seconds of a championship match.

This summer they found out that bringing back the state Player of the Year as a junior doesn't guarantee she will be healthy for her junior season.

So forgive the Patriots if they were not sold on any championship -- or any game, for that matter -- being a lock in 2022. The Shore's most talent-rich team is taking nothing for granted and that approach has them right where they want to be heading into the NJSIAA Tournament.

Last week, Freehold Township captured its second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship by taking down both St. John Vianney and Howell in the final two rounds. As this year's SCT champion, the Patriots are also the latest Surf Taco Team of the Week.

In their last game off the previous week, Freehold Township faced its only deficit of the tournament and only deficit all year long against an in-state opponent. Facing Toms River South, the Patriots fell behind, 1-0, but bounced back with three goals in the final 20 minutes of the first half to gain control in an eventual 5-1 win.

That performance set up Freehold Township for this past week, in which it got off to strong starts thanks to junior forward Hailey Santiago. In the semifinals vs. St. John Vianney, Santiago -- who leads the team in goal-scoring -- pounced on a free kick into the box from senior Gabby Koluch and knocked it into the goal in the 11th minute for the game's first goal. Sophomores Gaby Parker and Shea Jackson would add goals in the final five minutes to put the game on ice.

In the championship, Santiago struck in the 29th minute, one-timing a corner kick from classmate Ainsley Moy out of the air and into the goal. That score stood up for Freehold Township, which finished off a win over Class A North division rival Howell, 1-0, to claim its second straight SCT title and third overall.

With a first-round win in the NJSIAA Tournament on Wednesday, Freehold Township stands at 16-1, with its lone loss coming to Archbishop Spalding of Maryland by a 2-1 score. The Patriots look every bit as formidable as they were in 2021 despite playing the entire 2022 campaign without Clemson commit and 2021 Player of the Year Cassidy Corcione, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in May.

Even with Corcione sidelined, Freehold Township boasts three committed Division I players and several others likely to end up with that status. Koluch is headed to Villanova, Moy to Texas Christian (TCU) and senior Kayla Wong will play at Princeton.

With the Shore Conference Tournament in the rearview mirror, Freehold Township will make a run at a second straight Central Jersey Group IV championship. Ultimately, the Patriots are starving for another chance in the Group IV championship game, with a chance to win the program's first outright state championship.

2022 Team of the Week Winners

Week 1: Point Pleasant Boro

Week 2: Brick Memorial

Week 3: Central

Week 4: Holmdel

Week 5: Toms River South

Week 6: Howell


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