HADDON TOWNSHIP – It looked like a mismatch on paper and it turned out to be one on the field.
The upstart Pitman High School girls soccer team proved no match for one of the state’s Group 1 powers and saw its tournament run come to an end Tuesday night.
Julia Eichenbaum scored four goals, all coming in the first half, as two-time defending state champion Shore Regional surged to a 8-1 win over the Panthers in a state semifinal game played at Paul VI High School.
The Pitman players had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into, coming into play as a team that won the South Jersey Group 1 title as a No. 10 seed.
The knew they were facing a Shore team that had won five straight sectional titles in Central Jersey and is now making its sixth straight trip to the state finals.
“They’re a great, great team,” said Pitman coach Carrie Schwank. “They’re a soccer team. We knew it was going to be tough from the beginning. We had some breakdowns and those things happen. But I can’t take anything away from their team.”
Until Tuesday, the Panthers had been on an impressive post-season run.
Despite entering from the lower half of the bracket, they managed to win their first South Jersey championship in 22 years. Schwank told her players they should hold on to that memory.
The coach was proud of her team’s effort.
“They didn’t give up,” she said. “They were battling. They did everything they could do. Shore got a few breaks, and that was it.”
In reality, though, Pitman ran into a buzz saw right from the outset.
Shore took a 1-0 lead only two minutes into the game when Eichenbaum directed in a shot that deflected off the far post.
Of all of her goals, Eichenbaum said she thought that was the most important one.
“That goal helped us to gain confidence,” she said. “I thought we played much harder after that.”
Despite the way it turned out, Eichenbaum said Shore came in prepared to face a tough opponent.
“We expected a really tough game and we tried to give it our all,” she said. “We pulled through and we played amazing. I had other players on my team score goals behind me.”
Indeed, Pitman goalie Madison Shalaway was virtually under siege as Shore flooded the offensive zone with wave after wave of attackers.
Things could have been worse had Shalaway not stood tall on a couple of Shore opportunities, one on a break-away that was tantamount to a moving penalty kick,
“She was amazing,” said, Schwank. “She’s the last line of defense and she just made some outstanding saves.”
After Shore took the early lead, Pitman managed to hold firm over the next 18 minutes.
But then Shore scored twice in two minutes on goals by Lauren Mendillo and Eichenbaum to open a 3-0 lead.
And Shore wasn’t finished yet.
Eichenbaum connected again with about 2:30 to play in the half, and then again with six second remaining to turn the game into a rout.
Shore eventually extended its lead to 8-0 by midway through the second half on goals by Sophie Huaritz, Frankie McDonough and Hannah Birdsall.
Pitman got on the board late with a goal by Emily Galvin.
“I thought we played in second half in a light mood,” Schwank said. “By that time all we wanted was a goal and we got one.”
State Group 1 semifinal
Pitman 0 1- 1
Shore 5 3-8
Goals: Shore: Juiia Eichenbaum 4, Frankie McDonough, Sophie Hauritz, Hannah Birdsall, Lauren Mendillo, Pitman: Emily Galvin, Goalies: Madison Shalaway, P (10 saves), Julia Valinoti, S, (4 saves).