Photo Credit: Paul Mecca

Freehold Township goes back-to-back

Freehold Township girls' soccer and Manalapan Braves faced off Saturday in the NJSIAA CJ Group IV final, which was a big matchup for both teams as Freehold Township was seeking to go back-to-back. They played at Howell high school with a full house in attendance and the match did not disappoint. The pressure was on Manalapan's defense early as the Freehold offense was able to get shots off, but Leila Shaw made some nice saves in the beginning.

Both teams were attacking on the pitch as they were aggressive, got big clears early and were organized. Freehold Township had five shots on goal in the first two to three minutes of action as Shaw made a couple of huge diving saves. Manalapan competed against Freehold Township in the first half with fantastic defense. One of the key saves early was when Gaby Parker had a chance to put Freehold Township up in the first half, but Shaw came up big again with her sixth save.

Manalapan also had a chance to take an early lead in the 31st minute against Freehold Township but came up short as they continued to play the number one Patriots tough. Both teams did a great job of getting clean tackles and not getting too crazy. In the 37th minute, Shaw came up big again making another great diving save against Moy as she got her ninth save of the game for Manalapan at the moment. The score would hold up to 0-0 at halftime as Manalapan just came up short scoring as the ball just went over the net.

Manalapan got much better shots in the second half against both defenses. In the 46th minute, Manalapan struck first with a goal from Vanessa Sarf as the ball was bouncing around after the free kick and was knocked in by her. The momentum was on their side after that goal as Manalapan's defense started to play more aggressively in the second half. As they reached the 60th minute, Freehold Township was still trying to find a goal, but they had a hard time still as Shaw was up to 12 saves. Julia was all over the field for Manalapan as she got big clears also.

Freehold Township kept Shaw moving the whole night in the goal as her total went up to 14 saves with a knock away against Hailey Santiago, who had a great chance to tie it up right here. With 10 minutes left to play, Manalapan was still holding onto a 1-0 lead as they tried to keep Freehold from scoring. But with 6:49 left in regulation, Gaby Parker scored the equalizer as they finally got one last Shaw. Moy had back-to-back great opportunities for Freehold with 2:30 left but couldn't finish.

The score would stay at 1-1 as they headed into overtime in NJSIAA CJ Group IV final live from Howell high school. Santiago got the game-winning goal for Freehold Township against Manalapan Braves as they won back-to-back championships in a hard-fought match between these two teams. What a big moment for Santiago as she continued her strong season with the Patriots. Give credit to Manalapan for competing for the whole game but, unfortunately, came up short at the end.

Leila Shaw, who is a freshman goalkeeper for Manalapan Braves, had a fantastic game yesterday, getting a total of 20 saves against Freehold Township. She has been lights out the whole season for them coming up with clutch saves in big moments. Shaw will continue to grow from this match and have confidence going into next season. She has a bright future ahead of her for Manalapan.

Freehold Township is now looking to take home the overall Group IV title as they take on Eastern in the Group IV semifinals.