Freehold Township might have seemed like a sure bet to win the Shore Conference Tournament Championship when the tournament started, but the Patriots have learned over the past calendar year that there are no sure things.
They learned that, as talented as the 2021 squad is, they could be beaten. Upon discovering this, they also learned that a first-year goaltender could make a great save, secure the ball and not prevent it from crossing the goal line in the final seconds of a league game.
This summer, they found that bringing the state’s player of the year back as a junior doesn’t guarantee she’ll be healthy for her junior season.
So forgive the Patriots if they haven’t been sold to any championships — or games, for that matter — being a lock in 2022. The Shore’s most talent-rich team takes nothing for granted and that approach them place where they want to head to the NJSIAA tournament.
Last week, Freehold Township won its second straight Shore Conference Tournament Championship by knocking out St. John Vianney and Howell in the final two rounds. As this year’s TBS champion, the Patriots are also the last Surf Taco team of the week.
In their final game the previous week, Freehold Township faced their only deficit of the tournament and only deficit all year against an opponent from the state. 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 take control in an eventual 5-1 victory.
That performance set up Freehold Township last week, in which it got off to a flying start thanks to junior striker Hailey Santiago. In the semi-final against St. John Vianney, Santiago – who leads the team in goalscoring – leapt from a free kick into the box from elder Gabby Koluch and slammed it into the net in the 11th minute to the first goal of the game. . 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, a pinpoint corner kick from schoolmate Ainsley Moy out of the air and into the goal. That scoreline held off Freehold Township, who cruised to a 1-0 victory over Class A Northern Division rivals Howell to claim their second consecutive SCT title and third overall.
With a win in the first round of the NJSIAA tournament on Wednesday, Freehold Township sits 16-1, with its only loss to Archbishop Spalding of Maryland by a score of 2-1. The Patriots look just as formidable as they did in 2021 despite playing the entire 2022 campaign without Clemson’s commitment and 2021 Player of the Year Cassidy Corcione, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in May.
Even with Corcione sidelined, Freehold Township have three committed Division I players and several more likely to end up in that status. Koluch heads 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 be competing for a second consecutive Central Jersey Group IV Championship. Ultimately, the Patriots are hungry for another shot in the Group IV Championship Game, with a chance to win the program’s first all-time state championship.
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