Senior left back Jenna Todero and senior goalie Evie Kyritsis were at the core of the corner defense and helped fend off a dizzying amount of corners, 32 to be exact. Eighteen of them came in the first half when Shore Regional capitalized twice for a 2-0 lead.
Although Mountain Lakes was under pressure for long stints, it stayed strong and actually scored twice in the second half before succumbing 3-2 to the undefeated Blue Devils in a Group I semifinal at West Essex High School on Thursday.
The all-out effort by the corner unit, which also features flyer Kaylor Davies, trails Lizzie Lee and Lauren Lubowitz and Kelly Breslauer, prompted Lakers coach Coleen Buckley to refer to them as the top in Morris County, maybe the state."
"We practiced corners in a row a lot," said Todero, who plays post and had four defensive saves. "We're kind of used to it at this point. Having to defend a lot of corners doesn't faze me. At first, we were like 'Just get it out' so we could have a defensive push. We finally relaxed and played our game."
The Lakers (17-5) certainly didn't seem frazzled by Shore Regional and its super scorer, Aileen Johnson. Kyritsis said she knew nothing about Johnson, the Blue Devils or the history of their program.
"I wasn't really thinking of anything," said Kyritsis, who had a career-high 27 saves. "I was just playing with my team and enjoying it. I gave it my all. Our whole team was great. I wouldn't play for anyone else. We played until the end. We weren't going to go down without a fight. Everyone was amazing."
Under fire all game, Kyritsis, a first-year starter, was sensational. She handled everything that came her way, diving to stop several shots. Buckley praised her all-out performance.
"Evie is a monster in goal," Buckley said. "Her work ethic is outstanding. She's been a tremendous leader for our goalkeepers. We have a small coaching staff so, sometimes, the goalies are left to themselves. Evie's taken charge and improved her own skills as well as those of the others."
Todero, too, was lauded by Buckley.
"Jenna has a tremendous block tackle," Buckley said. "She's one of our top players. She's on corner defense because of her hand-eye coordination. Jenna stays nice and low and stops anything that scoots by the goalkeeper."
Senior forward Alyssa Ercolino, assisted by Johnson, gave Shore Regional a 1-0 edge 2:09 into the first half, scoring off a corner. It was Ercolino again nine minutes later off a corner, converting a pass from Toni Roma.
At that point, Mountain Lakes, which received another defensive save from Lubowitz, seemed a bit overwhelmed and was playing tentatively. That all changed when Casey Drollinger brought the ball up the right wing, getting inside the Blue Devils' 25-yard line.
"Our girls started to think 'Whoa, maybe it's not going to be just a defensive game," Buckley said.
It wasn't as junior forward Lizzie Lee brought the Lakers within one, 2-1, with a goal 3:26 after halftime. The goal, off a Drollinger pass, was deflected into the left side of the goalcage.
After several more rough stretches of defending corners, Shore was awarded a penalty stroke when it was deemed the ball went off Todero's body. Johnson took the stroke and lifted the ball into the left side of the cage with 12:19 remaining.
Mountain Lakes, though, got its second goal from Lee with 2:45 left after going one on one with a defender.
"We're a second-half team," Lee said. "That's not good but we weren't going to let it be a shutout. We wanted to win."
Shore Regional coach Nancy Williams' anxiety level rose a bit higher than usual when Lee's goal crossed the line.
"I'm always nervous from start to finish," Williams said. "I don't relax."
Williams credited the Lakers for their solid play, especially on defense.
"We didn't finish and Mountain Lakes had a lot to do with that," Williams said. "Their goalie was great. Their defense was great. Mountain Lakes has 16 seniors and they played like 16 seniors who didn't want their season to end. We were flat. We didn't play with much emotion."
The fact that the Lakers had a mere four shots on goal and connected twice pleased Buckley.
"I can't ask for anything more if we score 50 percent of the time," she said. "I'm ecstatic with how we played. My girls believe they're just as good and deserved to be out here."
Minutes after the game ended, one of the Mountain Lakes players suggested the squad continue with its bonding sessions. Another said she'd be lost without being with her teammates.
"No one's upset with how we played," Lee said. "We're upset that it's ending, not that we lost."
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