Defense often proves to be the mother of offensive production, and during Wednesday evening’s Shore Conference Tournament field hockey semifinals meeting between top-seeded Shore and No. 5 Freehold, the Blue Devils (15-1) showcased such an ideology in its 5-0 victory.
The few counter offensive charges formulated by the Colonials (15-4) offense on Holmdel High School’s home turf were quelled by blanket of royal blue and white that swarmed to the ball in droves, poking and prodding, and putting on display Shore’s impressive team defense.
With such an effort on the defensive end, the Blue Devils were able to jump out to a 4-0 lead before Freehold was able to record its first shot on goal at 5:46 … an attempt booted away by Shannon Johnson.
“I didn’t expect to come out of here with a 5-0 score,” explained Shore head coach Nancy Williams, who earned the 812th victory of her storied career. “Freehold is a very good team. But I think we came out on fire, and that’s what we set out to do.
“We looked at Freehold and didn’t think they had played an offense like ours yet. So our game plan was to put pressure on them early, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to do that against this team, but the kids played really well and got it done.”
Kara Casale opened the scoring early for Shore, collecting a rebound in front the cage off a Jessica Welch shot and putting it home at 4:10.
Casale’s marker was followed by a Katie Mannino score, after the sophomore emerged from a scuffle in front of the cage to push one past the keeper at 5:23. Carol Middough earned the assist and the following Blue Devils goal, crushing a low-riding one hop shot from 15 yards out that skipped past the Freehold netminder at 14:50.
Shore’s first-half scoring concluded with whom it began, as Casale found the back of the cage once more, again from point blank range at 3:06 after a powerful series of positional maneuvers.
“Cara is a little bit of a role player for us,” said Williams. “She knows that inside the circle her stick work will do good things for her. She’s very good at not trying to do anything outside of herself. She had her stick down, she was in the correct spots, and good things happened.”
The second half saw a fiercer effort put forth by the Colonials, who kept the Blue Devils from finding any type of offensive flow, and put the pressure on Johnson by more than doubling its shot total and scoring chances from the opening period.
However, Johnson stood stout between the pipes, finishing with 10 saves to earn her 12th shutout of the season.
“Any time Freehold had an opening tonight, Shannon was able to shut them down. There are very few goalies that could have made some of those saves she made. She helped change the complexion of this game. Her play was unbelievable.”
Molly O’Neill would add a fifth goal for Shore at 54:41 to place a proper cap on this dominant performance.
With this victory Shore earns the chance to play for its 14th consecutive SCT title on Saturday against the winner of No. 2 Rumson-Fair Haven and No. 7 St. John Vianney at 11 a.m. on the campus of Holmdel High School.