UNION, NJ - Winning a state championship normally is a joyous occasion, but for the second time in three years, it was instead a cause for mixed emotions for the Ridge girls soccer team.
There were more tears than cheers after Ridge fought Freehold Township to a 0-0 tie to claim a share of the NJSIAA Group 4 state championship Saturday night at Kean University. Two years ago on the same field, the same two teams also played to a nil-nil deadlock and split the accolades that season, too.
Two years ago, undefeated Ridge was regarded as the favorite in the championship game, whereas this year, Freehold Township was regarded as, perhaps, a very slight favorite.
But it took mere seconds into Saturday night's contest for Ridge to throw a mortal scare into Freehold Township, as junior Molly Mahoney made a blistering run with the ball after controlling the opening kickoff, took an authoritative shot from the right side and narrowly missed wide left. And then, just two minutes later, Mahoney had another great look and attempted a shot on frame that was saved by Freehold goalie Alessia LaRosa.
"I genuinely did not expect a 0-0 tie with their offensive firepower and our experience," Ridge coach Katie Donahue said. "I did not predict this."
Freehold Township (23-1-1) came in as the proverbial irresistable force and Ridge the proverbial immovable object: Freehold Township had rung up five goals in its 5-3 semifinal victory over Washington Township, and had not been shut out all season. Ridge (18-4-2) came into the game boasting 15 shutouts this season and a string of more than 200 minutes without being scored upon in the state tournament.
Now Ridge has not been scored upon in more than 300 minutes, as goalie Ally Lindsey (four saves) and the Red Devils' back line of Erin Keefe, Maddy Lui, Kaitlyn Madden and Gabriella Allen kept a stranglehold on a Freehold attack spearheaded by twin forwards Jasmine Colbert and Jada Colbert.
"I knew coming in that the Colbert twins would be a threat," said Lui, who was also starting on the back line when Ridge shut out Freehold Township in 2015. "I had faith in our ability to stop them. We just had to keep constant pressure on them and not let them turn. Keeping them off the scoreboard is a great accomplishment in itself."
It was, in fact, a remarkable accomplishment that might seem old hat to a Ridge program that has made such a habit of posting post-season shutouts against formidable opponents. That, combined with the tangible hardware--a trophy--that goes along with Saturday's tie, may eventually cause these Ridge players to see this state title in a different light--as something to be proud of rather than to be frustrated by.
But frustration was still an overriding emotion right after a game in which Ridge outshot Freehold Township, 10-7 (although Freehold had more corner kicks, 8-4). "I was very impressed that we limited their chances, especially on such a slippery day," Donahue said.
Eight minutes into the second half, Katie Arrigan booted one past LaRosa for an apparent Ridge goal, but Ridge was ruled offside and the goal was waved off. With 23:40 left in regulation, Sam Weyrauch launched a precise shot on frame from 25 yards out, only to have LaRosa leap and dive to her right to nab the shot just before it found the back of the net.
After an uneventful first overtime, LaRosa saved another shot by Mahoney with five minutes left in the second OT, and then a shot by Bailey Aaron off a corner with 2:40 left.
"I wanted to give the seniors the celebration they deserve," Donahue said. "It is frustrating, but I hope in a few days it'll sink in what we were able to do. But we wanted to hoist the trophy ourselves this time."