Balanced Scoring and Shut-Down Defense Lead No. 7 Freehold Township Past No. 6 RBC
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FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — With a performance on Wednesday that came about as close to perfect as the program could hope for, Freehold Township finally turned the corner after an up-and-down start to the season.
In their most complete effort of the season, the Patriots, ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, ran a fluid offense and stifled the red-hot scoring attack of No. 6 Red Bank Catholic for a 10-4 Shore Conference nondivisional victory.
Junior midfielder Mike Ferdinandi paced the offense with a hat trick, Kevin Patten scored twice and Brandon Nunez dished out three assists while senior Billy Sasso dominated the face-off circle in going 11-for-11. The defensive unit of senior defensemen Mike O’Brien and Collin Bitsko along with junior Ty Sebor and senior long-stick midfielder Mike DeBaere were great in front of goalies Billy Patten and Matt Schroepfer. RBC entered having scored 55 goals over its last three games, but was held to just four goals on 17 shots, scoring just twice after the first quarter.
“It’s the first complete game we’ve played all year,” said head coach Mike Ferrando. “We refocused after Shore (a 7-6 overtime victory on Monday) and starting talking about discipline and hustle. We were getting out-hustled by teams we feel we shouldn’t have been. They bought into it and we had the best practice of the year (on Tuesday), and it carried into the field.”
“We played Shore and kind of underestimated them and came out slow, and we let a team hang around that we shouldn’t have and it came down to overtime,” Sasso said. “The coaches were really on us that we had to turn our game around and that set the tone for today. We really hustled today and that was what got us the win.”
Sasso also had a goal in addition to spearheading the Patriots’ advantage in time of possession, and Freehold Township also received goals from John Poole, Mike Colicchia, Josh Nastarowicz and Chris Novella. Billy Patten started the game in goal and made one first-quarter save, and Schroepfer came in in the second quarter and stopped 10 shots.
Senior attackman Tim Barile led the Caseys (4-2) with a goal and two assists and Alec Mintz added a goal and an assist. James Mele and Brett Habich also tallied for RBC, while Matt Benjamin made nine saves.
“I definitely think that’s one of the better games we’ve played defensively all year,” O’Brien said. “We played within the confines of our defense and communicated well.”
The Patriots’ advantage started with its face-off ace Sasso, but was not limited to his work in the circle. Their offensive possessions were crisp and quality, and when the ball did come back the other way the defense made sure the Caseys had very few easy chances. Their clears were on point as well, with one or two quick passes all that was necessary to get the ball back across midfield.
“Possession was key and the riding was big, too,” Sasso said. “Coach Eich (assistant coach and former Red Bank Catholic head coach Ryan Eichner) especially is big on valuing the ball. We have to set our plays up and have long possessions, and we needed that so they couldn’t score because they have some Division I kids (Barile and Habich) over there.”
“They key defensively was having all six guys on the same page,” O’Brien said. “Communicating well and knowing your slides when you need them and being there to back each other up, that’s how you ultimately shut down an offense.”
Poole opened the scoring 1:08 into the game when Nunez fired a pass across the crease for a quick catch and release. The Caseys tied it just under two minutes later when Barile dodged and fed Habich at the top of the box, and the Siena recruit blasted his 100 mph shot past Patten. Kevin Patten would give the Patriots (6-3) the lead back when he drove and bounced a shot behind Benjamin, but Mele knotted the score at two when Barile dodged and fed him for a shot that hit the lower left corner.
From then on out, however, it was all Freehold Township.
Sasso drove and scored with a left-handed shot at 9:14 of the second quarter to put the Patriots up 3-2, then Colicchia, who stepped in for Poole after the senior had to leave the game with a knee injury, drove to his right and whipped a shot into the net at 7:36. Freehold Township started to break the game open when Ferdinand scored on an extra-man opportunity off a great feed from Nunez behind the net at 6:52.
The Caseys started the second half with a much-needed goal to cut Freehold Township’s lead to 5-3. Mintz picked up a ground ball and immediately fed Barile on the doorstep, and the VMI recruit turned and fired it past Schroepfer 1:20 into the third quarter. Freehold Township would respond with three straight goals, however, to take an 8-3 lead into the fourth quarter. Ferdinand tallied unassisted at 10:04 and Nastarowicz struck at 5:27 to make it 7-3. Freshman Chris Novella then picked up the rebound off a shot by sophomore Drew Dunn and tucked it past Benjamin with 3:24 left in the third.
The Caseys had a small window to mount a comeback when Mintz took advantage of a turnover deep in Freehold Township’s end, picked up a ground ball and scored in a one-on-one situation with Schroepfer to make it 8-4. One minute and seven seconds later, the Patriots answered when Nunez intercepted a pass and quickly found a cutting Ferdinand, who scored to make it 9-4. Kevin Patten finished off a quick passing play where Nastarowicz delivered the assist to make it 10-4 with 5:25 to play.
Wednesday's win over Red Bank Catholic was more than just a victory over a fellow top-10 team, it was a proving ground for a squad that saw many aspects of its play click for the first time. Coming off what it felt was a subpar game against Shore, and also following an eight-game stretch that included overtime losses to St. John Vianney and Manasquan, it was tangible evidence that if Freehold Township plays the way it did Tuesday, it can be a very dangerous team.
“Everything we do is there, but we haven’t been hitting it,” Ferrando said. “We have to be a complete team and play a complete game, and we did that today. Today they saw it was there and we can build on that.”
The key going forward will be consistency. The Patriots host No. 1 Southern on Friday and have Colts Neck on Monday, and still have games left against Red Bank and Howell before the postseason begins.
“We know how good we can be if we come to play, and that’s been the problem,” Sasso said. “Sometimes we come off the bus not focused, but if we do we believe we can beat any team in the Shore Conference.”
“Any given day we come out different, and with our season now kicking into full gear and the playoffs not far away we have to get on a grind and not stop,” O’Brien said. “We had some rocky games in the beginning that could’ve went either way and didn’t work out for us, and ultimately I think that’s the best thing for us. Seeing how we came out today and what we can do is huge for us.”
No. 7 Freehold Township 10, No. 6 Red Bank Catholic 4
Red Bank Catholic (4-2) 2 0 1 1 - 4
Freehold Township (6-3) 2 3 3 2 - 10
GOALS - RBC: Brett Habich, James Mele, Tim Barile, Alec Mintz; FT: Mike Ferdinandi 3, Kevin Patten 2, John Poole, Billy Sasso, Mike Colicchia, Josh Nastarowicz, Chris Novella.
ASSISTS - RBC: Tim Barile 2, Alec Mintz; FT: Brandon Nunez 3, Josh Nastarowicz, Drew Dunn.
SAVES - RBC: Matt Benjamin 10, Matt Pieringer 1; FT: Matt Schroepfer 10, Billy Patten 1.
SHOTS - Freehold Township 26-17.