By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
TOMS RIVER — Ocean City girls soccer coach Kelly Halliday said she couldn’t fault her team’s effort or intensity during the Group 3 semifinals Tuesday night at Toms River North High School. Central Jersey champion Allentown simply was the better team, as the Redbirds blitzed the South Jersey champion Red Raiders 6-1 to advance to the Group 3 state championship game. Allentown will take on Middletown South, which beat Northern Highlands 1-0, this weekend for the state title.
Five different players scored for Allentown as the Redbirds took a 2-0 lead into halftime, then put the game on ice by scoring twice in the first five minutes of the second half to extend the lead to 4-0.
Vanessa Rodriguez drilled a shot home off the opening tip of the second half, as Allentown extended its lead just 31 seconds into the half. Less than four minutes later, Rodriguez sent a cross into the box and Olivia Denney tapped home a rebound to make it 4-0. Denney also finished with two assists.
“They are a really good team. At halftime I was feeling confident. We wanted to get a quick one, but after their third goal went in, I felt like we hung our heads a little bit. I liked our effort. We were resilient and we gave it our all the whole game, but I think they were the better team today,” Halliday said. “They have a couple of dangerous players. When we stepped to one, they’d pass it to another one. We step to that one, they pass it to another one. I thought we did our best, but, yeah, they got the best of us.”
Allentown (21-1) was able to dominate the possession in the midfield, and that led to a lot of scoring chances. There wasn’t much sophomore keeper Abbey Fenton could do, as the Redbirds were highly skilled inside the box and were able to get shots from point-blank range. In the 18th minute, Denney made a run down the left side and sent in a beautiful cross to Emma Pascarella, who drilled it home for the first of her two goals and a 1-0 Redbirds lead. Then, with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Carly Roche sent a cross in to Pascarella, who stopped the ball, turned and deposited a shot into the lower right corner of the goal to push the lead to 2-0.
In the 48th minute, Pascarella weaved through the Ocean City defense and set up Roche, who ripped a shot into the lower right corner from 20 yards out to push the lead to 5-0. Ocean City (19-4-1) finally got on the board with a few minutes later when Abbey Kampmeyer scored.
“I thought this was a great experience, especially for our young players. I told them to look at the scoreboard. I told them we would be back next year and that what we need to take from this game is that we have to play at our highest level. We found out what it takes to win a South Jersey championship, now we have to find out what it takes to win a state championship,” Halliday said. “I thought the pressure was off with this game, but it’s an experience. It’s hard to play a night game against a really competitive team. It’s a hard game to win. But I don’t think this puts a damper on our season. I think we had a heck of a season and we had a fun time, and our girls did great. I think we’ll learn from this. I told them at halftime that at the end of the game, no matter what the score is, I want to be able to say we gave it our all. I said I wanted everyone to give love to our seniors and tell them that we’ll be back next year.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays