MANALAPAN - It may have lost most of its scoring from a year ago and be playing catch-up in the standings at this point in the season, but the Manalapan boys soccer team is not ready to give up on the prospect of a third straight Shore Conference Class A North division championship.

The Braves - No. 9 in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 - showed their fight Friday by beating No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy, 1-0. Senior Mitchel Volis scored the lone goal of the game in the 60th minute.

"It's frustrating to already have two losses this early on when we have the kind of expectations we do," Volis said. "We needed a good win like this one to get us going in the right direction, but with that being said, it means nothing if we don't show up tomorrow (against Middletown North). But it definitely felt good to win this game."

Mitchel Volis celebrates his goal Friday against CBA, the difference in Manalapan's 1-0 win over the No. 1 Colts. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Senior Ayush Mittal pounced on a loose ball in the middle of field and carried the ball into the box. He laid it off to the left side of the box just as CBA goalkeeper Aedan Boriotti came off his line and before Boriotti could recover, Volis ran onto the ball and slotted it to the far side netting.

"I was just hoping to play the ball back across the goal and get it passed their keeper," Volis said. "I thought as long as I was able to get it to the other side of the goal, someone would be there to put it in and if everything went perfectly, it would just go in and it happened to work out."

Mittal was an unsung hero during the Braves run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship last year and was critical in getting Manalapan a much-needed victory on Friday with his play to set up the goal by Volis.

"We know that if we play him into space, he's going to get there," Volis said of Mittal. "He's probably the fastest kid on our team and he knows how to make plays. When we give him the space like that, he's going to make a play on it."

The Manalapan goal came thanks to more pressure on the CBA defense in the second half after the two teams played a defensive first half. The Colts took the only two shots of the first half, but Manalapan turned the tide by outshooting CBA 9-3 in the second half. The Braves had two chances to score just minutes after Volis' goal, one that was denied by Boriotti and another that was covered by junior center back Scott Misson.

CBA nearly threatened to tie the game in the 64th following a throw-in, but Manalapan sophomore goalkeeper Josh Koenig saved a left-footed volley from the left angle by Colts senior Nick Meyer ticketed for the upper near corner of the goal.

Koenig became the third Manalapan goalkeeper to record a shutout this season, joining seniors Ryan Cadotte and Matt DiLorenzo in the Braves cycle of keepers. One constant in the back has been senior center back Mike McNicholas, who dominated the Manalapan third in the air and was instrumental in closing down CBA's options in the final third of the field. The Colts also had trouble stringing passes together on a firm, uneven, dry playing surface that has always been an x-factor in Braves home games.

"We like to keep the ball on the ground too, but this field makes it hard," Volis said. "You have to play a few more balls in the air and try to work to get set pieces and just make sure you don't take any bounces for granted. Teams get frustrated playing on it and that makes it an advantage for us, even though there are times it's frustrating for us too."

A loss Friday would have dropped Manalapan below .500 and left them three games behind CBA for first place in the division and two games behind Freehold Township for the public division title. CBA, on the other hand, entered play with a five-game winning streak that included wins over Freehold Township, Freehold Borough and most recently Don Bosco.

"We knew it might take a few games for us to jell and fit into new roles," said Volis, who is the leading returning scorer from a Manalapan team that graduated its three leading scorers. "I think we have a really good team, but we play in a really challenging division and we lost to two good teams. Today, we beat a good team and now we're going to try to keep getting better and try to get on a nice run here."

Updated, Sept. 26, 12:36 p.m.

Manalapan's win Friday comes on the heels of a 2-1 loss to No. 3 Freehold Township on Monday and it was the second straight game in which assistant Kerry Eisman served as acting head coach while longtime head coach John Natoli served the second game of a four-game suspension. Natoli was issued a yellow card in a win over Middletown South on Saturday and suspended four games by the school as the result of an incident with one of the officials following the game.

Box Score

Manalapan 1, CBA 0

1

2

F

CBA (6-2, 5-1)

0

0

0

Manalapan (3-2, 3-2)

0

1

1

Goal (Assist): Mitchel Volis (Ayush Mittal) 60’
Shots: Manalapan, 9-5
Saves: (CBA) Aedan Boriotti 4; (M) Josh Koenig 4