Boys Soccer – Arena’s Record-Breaking Game Leads Holmdel to First SCT Title
OAKHURST - After a recent history littered with Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournament heartbreaks, the Holmdel boys soccer team got a monkey off its back Thursday night in the Shore Conference Tournament final and did so in record-setting fashion.
Junior Anthony Arena set a single-game championship record with five goals and senior Justin McStay added two goals and three assists to lead Holmdel - the No. 2 seed in the tournament - to a 7-1 drubbing of No. 5 Ocean, Holmdel's first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship.
"We definitely didn't have this in mind," Arena said. "We expected a tough game and they are a very good team. When we come together, though, we're a great team and a great organization."
"With all the talent on this team, with what our goals were for this team back in the beginning of July, this is to their credit," Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said of his players. "They have worked so hard all year and they wanted this one badly. There were times this year they almost looked like they were a little bored and I think it's because they were waiting for games like this one and they showed what they can do."
With his five goals, Arena also blew past Zach Bond for the single-season school record with 29 goals already this season. Bond scored 25 as a senior in 2012.
"It wasn't just me today," Arena said. "Guys kept feeding me the ball in great position. It's obviously a great feeling to keep scoring, but it's a team effort. We had everybody winning the ball in the middle and assisting me. So many guys did a great job today."
"I didn't really consider scoring five goals in a championship game as something that was even possible before tonight," junior center midfielder Joe Arena, Anthony's cousin, said. "Then he scored his second goal before halftime and then another one right at the start of the second hand, then four, then five. By that fifth one, I was bowing down to him. It was unreal."
For as bad as the final score was for the host team, Ocean actually struck first 2:34 into the match. Senior Zach Sintic, who left the Spartans' semifinals game against Toms River South with a head injury and returned to the lineup three days later, served a free from near midfield and put the ball on frame.
Holmdel senior goalkeeper Matt Lionette punched the ball straight up and Ocean senior Steve Carton got to it first with a header to break the ice in the third minute.
The early goal sparked Ocean to a strong first 15 minutes, but that would be the end of the Spartans' moment on Thursday night. At 15:12 in the action, Arena struck for his first goal, skipping a shot from the top of the 18-yard box to the lower left off a pass from junior Mark Walier.
"What made today so different is they (Ocean) had the first goal within five minutes," McStay said. "I didn't know what was happening. I thought maybe it was just an atmosphere we weren't used to because we came out and struggled for the first few minutes. In the second half, we just took off.
"They were a good team, though. They came out strong and I was actually a little scared."
Holmdel took full control of the game during a stretch of 5:53 that spanned the end of the first and beginning of the second half, starting with Arena's second goal. He ran onto a long ball from senior back Mikey Neff and knocked it into the far right post with 1:18 left in the half for a 2-1 Holmdel lead.
"You had to feel like we might come out and play a game like this, but as a coach, you never anticipate something like that," Nacarlo said. "When they came out and scored first, I really wasn't worried. We were over-amped a little bit and we settled in and really started to play our game about seven minutes before halftime."
Arena struck again 32 seconds into the second half on a through-ball from McStay to make it 3-1 before McStay scored on a set-up from Neff in the 45th to break the game open at 4-1.
"Seeing the ball go in right before half changed everything," McStay said. "Having Anthony is so huge because when we see him score and there is usually another one coming. It's just different when you have a player like that. He is incredible."
McStay then set up Arena for goals in the 52nd and 60th minutes that capped the junior's record-setting night and added a goal in the 67th to cap the scoring and start the early celebration.
"Since we were four or five years old, we've been playing together," Joe Arena said. "When we were really young, we were already talking about playing high school together. We thought my freshman year that we'd win a championship and it was heartbreaking to lose, but we had guys come back to the team and commit to winning. To come back this year and smash teams the way we have, especially in a championship game, feels great."
Prior to Thursday, no player had ever scored more than three goals in an SCT final. The lopsided final score was actually the second-largest margin of victory for a team in an SCT final and Ocean was also on the wrong end of the largest. In 2000, Manalapan beat Ocean, 8-0, to win its first of its three SCT titles.
Thursday marked Holmdel's third trip to the SCT final and first win. The Hornets lost to a 21-0 Christian Brothers Academy squad, 4-0, in 2011 and fell to Ocean, 2-0, in the 2012 final.
Since winning the Group III championship in 2010, Holmdel had also lost in its last three Group II final appearances, which came in 2011, 2012 and 2015. A number of current Holmdel players were on the 2015 team that led Garfield 1-0 in the final three minutes of the Group II final, only to give up two goals in the final 2:30 to lose a heart-breaker.
The Hornets faced no such drama in this tournament, outscoring their four SCT opponents by a combined total of 19-1.
"There's no comparison," said McStay, who is headed to West Point to play soccer next fall. "Once we started scoring in the second half, the game took on a whole different feeling. Two years ago, we scored with seven minutes left and we thought we had it. Today, once we got going, everything was going our way and it was just the greatest feeling. The was the best night of my life."
"I think the guys wanted to come out tonight and prove without a doubt that they are the best team in the Shore Conference," Nacarlo said. "Not only the Shore Conference, but one of the best teams in the state, and I think they made that statement loud and clear today."
Holmdel 7, Ocean 1
Goals (Assists): (O) Steve Carton (Zach Sintic) 3'; (H) Anthony Arena (Mark Walier) 16', Anthony Arena (Mikey Neff) 39', Anthony Arena (Justin McStay) 41', Mark McStay (Mikey Neff) 45', Anthony Arena (Justin McStay) 53', Anthony Arena (Justin McStay) 60', Justin McStay 67'
Shots: Holmdel, 16-7
Saves: (O) Max Winters 4, Thomas Gleason 1; (H) Matt Lionette 2