HADDONFIELD – The high school soccer graveyard is littered with teams that lost big games despite dominating the ball.
Shore Regional’s girls did not want to be one of those teams in Tuesday’s NJSIAA Group I semifinal.
So, after trailing Haddon Heights at halftime despite a 13-4 edge in shots, the Blue Devils found an extra gear and posted a 2-1 triumph to advance to their fourth straight state final.
“I said in the huddle at halftime, ‘We need to get angry,’ ” senior co-captain Jessica Egan said. “When we get angry, we play our game.”
That game was breathtakingly good. Shore outshot the South Jersey champion 13-0 after the break, and that included two crossbar caroms and a spectacular double-save by Haddon Heights keeper Leah Peshkin.
The score easily could have been 4-1 or 5-1, but a ticket got punched to Saturday’s final all the same. For the third time in four years, the Blue Devils (20-4-1) will face Glen Ridge for all the marbles. They tied in 2013, and Glen Ridge won in 2012.
Last fall, they suffered heartbreak at the hands of Kinnelon.
“That especially motivated us seniors, because we’ve been there four times, and we’ve never won it straight out,” co-captain Shannon Bonner said. “Starting in the summer, that drove us not only to get there but to win it full out.”
Getting there seemed uncertain at halftime, after Haddon Heights scored on a spectacular individual effort by forward Alex Pease.
“When they scored that goal it really hit us: This could be our last half,” Bonner said. “We came out a lot stronger.”
The second half was played entirely in Haddon Heights’ end, and Shore broke through with 25 minutes left. Freshman Frankie McDonough took a pass from Sophie Hauritz on the right side of the box and split two defenders before hammering home a perfect strike just inside the far post.
“Let me tell you, her sisters play at Princeton, and for a freshman, she has composure that neither of the other ones had (at that age),” Shore coach George Moutis said. “Inside the 18, she took two or three girls on and didn’t just try to kick the ball. She got in position to shoot, which was a great move.”
Less than three minutes later, Hauritz scored from straightaway after a superb cross from freshman Hannah Birdsall, setting off an eruption in the raucous crowd of about 1,000.
“The first half we dominated, but the problem was we were shooting from the 20-yard mark,” Moutis said. “At the start of the second half I said, ‘Girls, they are going to pack it in. It can’t be, oh, we’re just going to shoot it. We’ve got to work it in.’ That’s what we focused on in the second half, and the girls really played inside the 18.”
To Shore’s credit, they never packed it in. The Blue Devils attacked to the bitter end.
“We play total soccer,” Moutis said. “When we lose the ball, we defend. When we have the ball, we attack. That’s our team concept.”
Staff writer Jerry Carino: email@example.com