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Blue Devils battle familiar foe with chance at 2nd outright state soccer title

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By Matthew Rocco

The Shore Regional High School girls’ soccer team won its first outright state championship in 2015. This past weekend, the Blue Devils got a shot at their second.

Freshman Julia Eichenbaum provided another jolt of energy to Shore Regional’s offense in the NJSIAA Group I semifinals, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Haddon Heights High School. The win propelled the Blue Devils into the Group I finals, where they were slated to battle a familiar playoff rival for the championship.

The Blue Devils faced Glen Ridge High School for the fourth time in five years. Last year’s matchup went in Shore Regional’s favor with a 2-1 victory in overtime that gave the Blue Devils their first victory in a group final. The two sides shared the title in 2013 after a tie, and Glen Ridge won the championship bout in 2012.

Both teams also have five consecutive sectional titles to their credit. This year, the Blue Devils toppled Middlesex High School, Point Pleasant Beach High School, Highland Park High School and Haddon Township High School on their way to the Central Jersey, Group I crown. Shore Regional climbed through the bracket in rather dominant fashion, outscoring its opponents, 18-4.

In a rematch of last season’s finals, Shore Regional will focus on executing its game plan.

“The main thing is we can’t allow other teams to throw us from our style. We can’t get into a game where we play kick and run without possessions. That’s not our style,” head coach George Moutis said prior to the contest.

Shore Regional’s postseason run has been a team effort. With multiple weapons on offense, the Blue Devils can cause havoc down the field.

“We lost six starters from last year’s team. The girls have gelled, especially Julia [Eichenbaum], Frankie [McDonough] and Hannah [Birdsall] up front. You have to focus on all three of them, so it makes it tough for opponents,” Moutis said.

A mix of veterans and first-year starters have led the Blue Devils through the playoffs.

Senior captains Kelly Bolsch and Devon McDonough have brought valuable experience to the field a year after Shore Regional lost multiple starters to graduation. Fellow midfielders Sophie Hauritz, a junior, and Lauren Mendillo, a sophomore, have contributed on both sides of the field.

Sophomores Hannah Birdsall and Frankie McDonough, who lead the Blue Devils in goals this season, have been the top scoring threats down the stretch.

Eichenbaum has scored twice in two games this postseason, and her performance in the semifinals against Haddon Heights proved to be the difference in a close game.

The Blue Devils (19-4) got on the board in the 22nd minute when Bolsch drove a corner kick that was deflected on a Devon McDonough header and sent into the net by Birdsall. Eichenbaum’s two goals came in the second half, first to break a 1-1 tie and then to put some distance between the two teams.

Her first score was a long drive from 30 yards. It took just three minutes more for the talented freshman to strike again. Off a pass from Frankie McDonough, Eichenbaum sent the ball to the back of the net from the left corner of the box.

Goalie Julia Valinoti made three saves in the win.

“Our team played great soccer. They fought really hard. The girls did a tremendous job, especially the midfield. They did a great job controlling the game,” Moutis said. “It was great momentum going into the final.”

Shore Regional and Glen Ridge (16-6-1) were set to decide the Group I title Nov. 19 at Kean University.

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