MIDDLETOWN - With the Shore Conference Tournament already seeded and with its chances to win the Class A North division championship a long shot, there wasn't any tangible gain for the Marlboro boys soccer team to wrap its collective arms around during its trip Wednesday to play Christian Brothers Academy.

Instead, the Mustangs - the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - saw an opportunity to make a statement against the No. 1 team in the Shore, the top team in N.J. and the No. 3 team in the Top Drawer Soccer national rankings in a potential Shore Conference Tournament championship preview.

Marlboro proved it is ready for the big stage during the potential SCT final dress rehearsal, defeating the previously unbeaten Colts, 3-1, behind a pair of goals by senior P.J. Ringel.

Marlboro's Josh Grun (11) celebrates his goal against CBA with teammate P.J. Ringel. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"This is the most confident I've felt coming to this field in a long time," said Marlboro coach Dave Santos, who is a teacher and the head lacrosse coach at CBA. "At the end of the day, it's another day at the office. We only got a split with them with this win today. The big one is going to be in the Shore Conference Tournament, so we're going to enjoy this one and get right back to work."

"This was preparation for the (Shore Conference) final," Ringel said. "This is a special team that we have going. We've been playing together since we were eight years old and some of them won a national cup together over the summer. This is for the team and this is for coach and we wanted to start our postseason today."

CBA played Wednesday without senior center fullback Scott Misson (red card vs. Manalapan on Monday) and Marlboro immediately took advantage. In the fourth minute, Ringel flicked a throw-in by senior back Ryan LaRocca from the right side of the box, over the head of Colts goalkeeper Aeden Boriotti and to the far corner of the goal.

Ringel again struck in the 22nd minute by taking a pass from sophomore outside back Jaden Strumaier, fighting through a CBA defender and sliding the ball past Boriotti for his 17th goal of the season. The tally put CBA in a 2-0 hole for the first time this season.

"The whole season, I keep learning you have to play through the contact and eventually the ball will find its way into the net," Ringel said.

The Colts would not trail by two goals for long. They broke up Marlboro's shutout in the 29th minute, when senior Matt Thorsheim dribbled through a crowd of defenders and slid the ball to sophomore Joe Lozowski, who ripped a shot to the left side of the goal from 12 yards out.

Marlboro tacked on an insurance goal in the 64th inning on a header by senior Josh Grun. Senior Steven Karp served a free kick from near the left corner and Grun flicked a headball from the near left post to the far right corner of the goal - a near-mirror image of Ringel's first goal, only off a free kick rather than a throw.

Ringel has been a Swiss Army Knife of sorts for Santos during his Marlboro career, but has settled in at the top of the formation. Most of Marlboro's roster plays together year round, but Ringel is an exception. He is primarily a basketball player who only plays soccer for the two-month high school season - and still plays basketball during the fall.

"He's just so darn athletic, big and strong," Santos said of Ringel. "He's a little raw with his skills because he's a basketball guy by trade. I wish he played soccer his whole life. He doesn't even play in the offseason, but nobody works harder and he's so opportunistic. He got two chances and buried them both today and that's been his modus operandi."

"Coach knows best," Ringel said. "I've played everywhere on the field so whatever he sees as the best fit for me, I'm all for it. I wasn't a finisher last year. I was a guy who would hit one outside the box and once and a while it would go in, but it was not a strength."

Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel scored two goals vs. CBA on Wednesday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The two goals on headballs served to underscore the absence of Misson, who drew a straight red in the final minute of a 5-0 win over Manalapan. Recent precedent has seen CBA add games to the state-enforced two-game suspension for red cards, but the Colts staff indicated Misson will play when he is eligible Monday and did not feel Misson's conduct Monday was worthy of any further discipline - or a red card in the first place.

"I think today was more about what Marlboro did than it was about not having Scott," CBA coach Tom Mulligan said. "They got out to an early lead on us, we had to chase the game and we didn't connect passes in our customary way. You have to credit Marlboro for that."

While the Mustangs hung three goals on the Shore's top team, the defense and goalkeeper James Weinberg delivered on the other end of the field. Weinberg saved three shots and the Marlboro back four of LaRocca, senior Dan McGrath, senior Justin Goldstein and Strumaier limited CBA's chances - particularly in the second half. The Colts outshot Marlboro 6-3 in the first half but took only two shots in the second half.

"The three seniors have been playing together for three years," Santos said. "They know each other's moves, they know how to support each other, they know what the other guys are thinking, so they play really well together. And Jaden plays like a senior. He's so composed for a sophomore, I can't even think of a mistake he's made this season."

Weinberg turned back one dangerous CBA opportunity in the first half and the Colts best two chances were missed shots over the crossbar. Thorsheim juked around a host of defenders, created some space and ripped a shot just over the bar in the ninth minute. Late in the second half, with his team trailing 3-1, sophomore Jack Gill one-timed a long pass over the bar.

Although CBA missed out on a chance to clinch the outright Class A North championship Wednesday, the Colts can still win the outright title by defeating Neptune on Thursday. A draw against the Scarlet Fliers - the last-place team in Class A North - would result in Marlboro and CBA sharing the A North title and if Neptune pulls off a monumental upset, Marlboro will win the Class A North title outright.

The A North rivals met Wednesday for the first time since Sept. 13, when CBA edged Marlboro in overtime, 1-0. Since dropping that decision to the Colts, Marlboro has not lost and settled for just one draw against Freehold Township during the current 14-game unbeaten streak.

Marlboro's win Wednesday sets both teams on a crash course for a rubber match in the SCT final on Oct. 29, assuming both teams can avoid an upset en route to the championship game. CBA is seeking its second consecutive SCT title and 10th overall, while Marlboro is looking to reach the title game for the first time since beating CBA in the 2009 championship game to capture the program's first and only conference title in boys soccer.

"I reminded the boys after the game that the main goal of our season wasn't to beat Marlboro at home," Mulligan said. "We have bigger goals than this game, so we just need to refocus ourselves and remember what the ultimate goal is.

"We had a great run up until now and sometimes 16 and 17-year-old players are going to get caught up in the headlines and the praise. The reality is that it's really hard to win every game in A North and it's really difficult to go undefeated as a high school team."

"We looked at the bracket and we know it's dangerous," Ringel said. "Most of the teams we could end up playing have played with us, so we know we're going to get their best. We know it's going to be tough, but we're just going to stick with what coach says. That's worked for us so far."


Box Score

Marlboro 3, CBA 1

1 2 F
Marlboro (14-1-1, 12-1-1) 2 1 3
CBA (15-1, 12-1) 1 0 1

Goals (Assists): (M) P.J. Ringel (Ryan LaRocca) 4', P.J. Ringel (Jaden Strumaier) 22', Josh Grun (Steven Karp) 64'; (CBA) Joe Lozowski (Matt Thorsheim) 29'
Shots: CBA, 8-6
Saves: (M) James Weinberg 3; (CBA) Aeden Boriotti 1