WALL TWP. - Shane Keenan enrolled at Ranney School three years ago hoping to help put the soccer program on the map. After 100 hard-fought minutes against Class B Central rival St. Rose on Nov. 6, he and his teammates took a big step toward doing just that.

The Panthers - the No. 5 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B playoffs - survived two halves and two overtime periods without allowing a goal to the No. 4 Purple Roses and took down St. Rose in a round of penalty kicks, 4-2, to advance to the program's first sectional semifinal.

Ranney hosted No. 8 Holy Cross on Nov. 10 with a spot in the sectional final on the line.

"When I was deciding which high school I was going to go to, this is exactly what I had in mind," said Keenan, who said he was also considering Christian Brothers Academy. "I wanted to help build a program from the ground up and become a team that competes for championships by the time I left. To make a run like this while I'm still a junior and we still have a pretty young team is huge for the program."

Asher Kraut (19), Marc Greenstain (15) and the rest of the Ranney boys soccer team celebrates following a shootout win over St. Rose. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Once the Panthers survived an eventful final 10 minutes of regulation and first overtime period, they found their element in the shootout. Junior goalkeeper Noah Ayers saved two of the four St. Rose attempts while all four Ranney shooters converted their kicks.

"I felt very comfortable in penalty kicks," said Ayers, who froze on the first attempt but stopped two of the last three to put his team in position to win. "I feel like I can read the shooters pretty well. I just key in on their hips and that usually tells me which way the ball is going."

Brendan Wall, Greyson Kellner and Keenan all knocked in their kicks and freshman Ademola Odunlami capped the win with a shot that split the goal down the middle and set off the Ranney celebration.

"We've done a lot of work on penalty kicks and I knew we would be prepared if it came down to that," Keenan said. "With the way the game was going at the end of the half and into overtime, I think we might have been looking to get to PK's and try to win it there. St. Rose is much deeper than we are, so once we got into overtime, we were getting tired while they still had some fresh legs, and I felt like that was a big obstacle for us to overcome."

St. Rose nearly won the game with a golden goal on two separate occasions just two minutes apart from one another in the first overtime period. In the third minute of extra time, sophomore Ethan Bodine got behind the Panthers' back line and was one-on-one with Ayers with a potential winner in the works. He drilled a clean shot over the Ranney keeper, but the ball nailed the crossbar and bounced down on the near side of the end line.

In the 85th minute, the ball came back across the goal after a corner kick service and Bodine got a clean header on it, but his attempt grazed the right post.

Ranney nearly took the lead in the 72nd minute when Odunlami flicked a shot that St. Rose goalkeeper Patrick Gates deflected. The deflected shot hit the crossbar, and after St. Rose cleared the ball away, the Purple Roses put Ranney under constant pressure for the final eight minutes of regulation and throughout the first overtime period.

Neither team created a quality chance in the second overtime period as fatigue became a factor, according to the Ranney players.

"We definitely went into game-management mode toward the end," first-year Ranney coach Anthony Vasquez said. "Guys were getting tired and some were cramping up so we tried to simplify things and just told guys to get the ball long up the field and recover."

The Panthers started the game in control, outshooting St. Rose 10-5 over the first 50 minutes before the Purple Roses found their form. St. Rose won the edge in shots 14-13 and forced 10 corner kicks to Ranney's two.

"We have had some bad starts to games, so coming out strong has been a big message for us in the last couple of games," Keenan said.

"I was really hoping to get a goal early," Vasquez said. "I thought we came out with great energy and played really well, but unfortunately, the ball didn't go in the net."

Last year, Ranney went 6-10-2 and did not participate in the NJSIAA Tournament. Its win over Trenton Catholic in the opening round this season was its first state tournament win since 2009.

In addition to returning Keenan and Ayers to the lineup, the Panthers have benefited from breakout seasons from Ian Dobrzynski and Mo Odunlami, a return to the program by defender Asher Kraut, and a handful of freshman contributors that include Ademola Odunlami, Kellner and Jazz Henry.

Center midfielder Brendan Wall was the final piece for the Panthers, who welcomed Wall to the lineup after he sat the first 30 days of the season due to the NJSIAA transfer rule. Wall began his career at Holmdel and was a starter on Hornets teams that lost in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals in 2013 and the sectional final last year.

"I was happy with our performance prior to (Wall) playing, and adding him has made us even better," Vasquez said. "He's been good from the soccer aspect of things, and he's also been a positive influence. He's had some good experience between academy ball and the state tournament, so hopefully that is rubbing off on some of our younger guys."

 

Box Score

Ranney 0, St. Rose 0

1 2 OT OT F PK
Ranney (13-6-1) 0 0 0 0 0 4
St. Rose (12-7-1) 0 0 0 0 0 2

Penalty Kicks: (R) Brendan Wall, Greyson Kellner, Shane Keenan, Ademola Odunlani; (SR) Jonathan Caputo, Jack Cusack
Shots: St. Rose, 14-13
Saves: (R) Noah Ayers 6; (SR) Patrick Gates 6