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RUMSON - Rumson-Fair Haven senior defender Ryan Strang had been imploring his teammates on the attack to find the killer instinct to add to one-goal leads, not just because it would make his job and that of goalkeeper Chris Tierney easier, but because the inability to build on leads has cost the Bulldogs this season.

Rumson seniors Harry Gassert (left) and Pete Martin congratulate each other after advancing to the SCT semifinals. (Photo by Matt Manley)

With a one-goal lead late in the second half against Wall in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, senior Eamon Kitson helped show the killer instinct his team had been begging to see.

Kitson scored off an acrobatic spin move in the 70th minute to add to the one-goal lead and sophomore Jamie Martin added a goal five minutes later as Rumson shut out Wall 3-0 to advance to the SCT semifinals for the first time in school history.

The third-seeded Bulldogs will take on No. 2 Holmdel Thursday at Summerfield School Memorial Field in Neptune, the third meeting between the two Class A Central opponents. Rumson won the first meeting 3-2 while Holmdel took the second game, 2-1, after falling behind 1-0.

“Strang was getting mad because we weren’t taking advantage of our chances, and I guess I can’t blame him because it made him have to work harder,” Kitson said. “He works harder than anybody, so it was important to get a couple goals and give our defense a chance to take a deep breath. Wall had some dangerous chances, and we didn’t want to mess around with them because we knew they could get one late if we weren’t careful.”

While Rumson controlled play throughout the game, Wall created enough shots to put a scare into a Bulldogs team still protecting a one-goal lead. Eventually, the Bulldogs put the insurance goal together, starting with senior midfielder Matt Dell settling the ball at midfield. He took a touch and slid a pass to Kitson at the top of the 18-yard box. Kitson faked out a defender, turned to his right and slid a shot toward the far right netting for the second Bulldogs goal and his 12th of the season.

[onescreen item="5154951"]“Matt Dell has great vision, probably the best on the team,” Kitson said. “I just made myself available for him and he got me the ball right where I wanted it so I could make a move. After that I just took my time and made sure I took a quality shot.”

For the second straight game in the SCT, Rumson opened the scoring in the ninth minute on a goal by junior forward Mike Slutz. Kitson managed to get the ball through two defenders to Slutz on the right side of the frame and the junior got a clearing and shot the ball past Wall goalkeeper Jack Wishart. The goal was the team-leading 13th of the season for Slutz.

“Slutz has been impressive this year,” Kitson said. “For 10 minutes, he’ll be the best player on the field, score a goal, and then you won’t see him for the rest of the game. His best skill is taking on defenders. Already in this tournament, we’ve seen him take on two, sometimes three guys, take a hit and stay on his feet. He’s been a beast for us.”

[onescreen item="5154954"]Wall had three quality chances, two of which came in the first half. Brendan Barcas got behind the defense and had a clean look from 14 yards out on the right angle, but missed wide of the far post in the 22nd minute. Barcas’ older brother, Chris, later drilled a left-footed strike from 20 yards just over the crossbar in the 33rd minute.

Rumson goalkeeper Chris Tierney – who Monday committed to the University of Vermont to play with Kitson next year – also made a save on a shot by Brendan Barcas shortly after Kitson’s goal gave Wall a 2-0 lead.

Martin tacked on a goal of his own after Pete Martin dribbled through the defense and slid a pass to Jamie Martin, who had a clean shot from six yards out.

Rumson will look to continue its banner season against Holmdel after squandering a 1-0 lead to the Hornets in a 2-1 loss at home on Oct. 5.

“It’s been hard to focus on any other team other than Holmdel, not just today, but all year,” Kitson said. “They are the team we have to go through to get where we want to go, and we’re glad it has to be them. We let one get away against them on our home field the last time we played, so we’re looking forward to another shot at them.”

Although the program has far less experience in the late rounds of the Shore Conference Tournament than the other semifinalists – Holmdel (two straight finals appearances), Ocean (defending champion) and Manalapan (2006 champion) – the Bulldogs have 17 seniors on the varsity roster, far more than any other team remaining. If the Bulldogs separate themselves from the pack over the next two games, senior leadership could be the difference.

“It’s a big factor because this is it for us,” Kitson said of the senior-laden roster. “We don’t get another shot at this. This is our chance to help RFH to leave a mark in the Shore Conference Tournament and to get (first-year) coach (Will) Gould off to a good start in his coaching career. He’s been great for us this year, and we want to reward him and reward the program.”

Box Score

Rumson-Fair Haven 3, Wall 0




Wall (11-2-6)




Rumson-Fair Haven (15-1-1)




Goals (Assists): (RFH) Slutz (Kitson) 9’, Kitson (Dell) 70’, J. Martin (P. Martin) 75’
Shots: Rumson-Fair Haven, 16-6
Saves: (W) Wishart 4; (RFH) Tierney 3