OAKHURST - First-year Ocean boys soccer coach John Terlecsky thinks his team is just starting to round into form and considering the pre-top-form version of the Spartans lost only twice and defeated Class B North division rival Long Branch - all while battling some minor injury issues - the rest of the prospective B North contenders might be in trouble.

Ocean welcomed Long Branch in for the second meeting between the teams Thursday and turned in an all-around performance in a 3-0 win that extends Ocean's lead atop the division to two games over both Long Branch and Monmouth Regional.

An unexpected hero stepped forward for the Spartans on Thursday to jump-start the scoring. Sophomore Elias Brandimarte scored the first two Ocean goals, which were also the first two goals of his varsity career.

Brandimarte scored his first varsity goal by beating the last defender along the right flank, angled toward the near post and poked a shot to the far left side netting in the 28th minute.

In the ninth minute of the second half, the Spartans earned a free kick from 30 yards out and junior Santieno Harding cracked a shot off the crossbar. Brandimarte read the ball off the bar and headed into the exposed net to put Ocean ahead, 2-0.

"His role is more defensive for us, but we've been on him and a few of the guys to pick out opportunities to try and score goals," Terlecsky said of Brandimarte. "I'm familiar with him as a player from the freshman team last year so I've seen what he can do with his height and athleticism and even though he hadn't scored before today, I don't think it's a surprise to us that he can contribute in that way for us."

Long Branch could not mount an adequate attack in order to get back in the game and its best opportunities came on free kicks and corners. Then, 12 minutes after Brandimarte's second goal, the Spartans effectively sealed the win with their third goal.

Senior Steve Carton settled a long clearance by senior Mark Butler, carried the ball toward the right flag before cutting it back toward the goal. Carton dribbled through three defenders and popped a shot over goalkeeper Rodolfo Giron in the 61st minute.

"One thing we've been telling our guys is to not make so many of their runs directly at the goal," Terlecsky said. "We've been trying to get them to play the angles a little bit better and I thought Steve did a nice job getting the ball out wide and then going at the goal."

Since losing back-to-back games to Freehold Boro and Middletown North, Ocean has won four straight games against Middletown South, Wall, Red Bank Catholic and now Long Branch. The Spartans have rounded into better health during that time, with Harding and junior Mark Mauro shaking off nagging injuries - which caused Mauro to miss a game and Harding to miss two.

"I thought we played really well a couple of games ago against Wall," Terlecsky said. "We didn't finish as many opportunities as we could have, but that's improved some in the last two games. It could still be better, but I think we're seeing progress."

The recent return of senior midfielder Job Cajas has made an impact as well. The senior missed the first three weeks of the season while in Ecuador.

"We played almost the whole preseason without (Cajas) and we knew he probably wouldn't be back until late in the regular season," Terlecsky said. "We were used to playing without him, so when he came back, he injected some life into our lineup and he's brought some toughness and ability in the midfield."

Class B North is shaping up to be a dangerous division from top-to-bottom over the final two weeks of the regular season, with last-place Red Bank Catholic defeating Middletown North on Thursday. Ocean's two game lead might be comfortable in other divisions, but B North's balance makes the road to the finish a little more treacherous for the Spartans.

With Long Branch, however, out of the way in the form of a two-game season sweep, Ocean finds itself in about the best position imaginable with six divisional games remaining.

"This is a big win for us," Terlecsky said. "Long Branch played us tough the first time and to come out and play like we did today is encouraging. We're still looking to clean some things up, but I think over the last week or so, we're starting to resemble the team we envisioned before the season."

 

Box Score

Ocean 3, Long Branch 0

1 2 F
Long Branch (7-3, 5-3) 0 0 0
Ocean (7-2, 7-1) 1 2 3

Goals (Assists): (O) Elias Brandimarte 28', Elias Brandimarte (Santieno Harding) 49', Steve Carton (Mark Butler) 61'
Shots: Ocean, 17-12
Saves: (LB) Rodolfo Giron 6;  (O) Max Winters 5