Follow Matt Manley on Twitter

Playing a Colts Neck squad that did not have an active senior on the roster Friday in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, the Holmdel girls soccer team – the No. 5 seed in the SCT – had a marked advantage in high school experience with 14 seniors on its roster.

Holmdel senior Jessica Moskal sends the ball forward during the Hornets' 1-0 win over Colts Neck in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 Friday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

While those seniors did their part on the field, it was a handful of underclassmen that help push the Hornets into the SCT quarterfinals.

Sophomore Catherine Cirigliano scored of a rebound on a shot by classmate Gabby Bair for the game’s lone goal and junior goalkeeper Helen Burleigh, sophomore center fullback Casey Matthijs and the Holmdel defense shut down the Cougars attack to secure a 1-0 win for the Hornets.

“The seniors on this team are amazing,” Burleigh said. “They’ve all been like mothers to me since I got here. One of the reasons the younger players on the team have done so well is because we’ve had these seniors leading us.”

“It’s such a luxury to have young players who can play at the level that ours do,” Holmdel senior center midfielder Jessica Moskal said. “We have some key sophomores in key spots, they all play for high-level club teams and they are all unselfish, team-oriented girls.”

Holmdel will host No. 12 Central Regional in the quarterfinals Monday after the Golden Eagles upset defending champion and No. 4 seed Toms River North. The Hornets will look to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2009.

[onescreen item="5153957"]“Our focus has been on playing the way we know we can play,” Moskal said. “At this time of year, every team we play is going to be a good team and in order to keep winning, we need to be able to play our game and not worry about who the opponent is.”

Cirigliano did not start the game, but made the most of her opportunity while on the field during the latter stages of the first half. After the ball came back out following a Holmdel corner kick, Bair sent it back in with a shot on the net. Freshman goalkeeper Alyssa Caufield stopped the shot but did not hold it and Cirigliano tapped the rebound into the goal to give Holmdel a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute.

“I’ve been trying to tell the girls to just shoot the ball when you have a chance and I was so happy to see Gabby take the shot,” Holmdel coach Jen Conroy said. “We didn’t play our best offensive game today, but when you take shots, good things happen. Gabby took the shot and Catherine Cirigliano was in the right place at the right time and she took advantage of it.”

Colts Neck’s best opportunity came just seconds after the goal, but Burleigh made a kick save on a close-range shot to deter the Cougars’ best chance.

“Helen has been amazing since the day she got here,” Moskal said. “We have so much confidence in her back there. Having a keeper like that gives you one less thing to worry about on the field because we know whatever happens in the back, she’s going to make up for any mistake.”

Burleigh’s command of the 18-yard box, as well as the work of the defense – led by Matthijs and senior Ally Marchiano – helped Holmdel quiet the Colts Neck attack, despite the game being even overall. Holmdel edged Colts Neck, 9-7, on shots and the shots on goal were even at 5 apiece.

Matthijs, Marchiano, Moskal and sophomore forward Hannah Lee have been battling injuries, but have all rounded into health at the right time for Holmdel. Colts Neck, meanwhile, has been without captains Tori Zamarra and junior Halley Cartas due to injury. Zamarra is the lone senior in the program this season.

“It’s good to be getting healthy at the right time,” Conroy said. “We’ve had to deal with injuries like a lot of other teams, but we’re fortunate to be getting everyone back. We’re a good team when we’re at full strength, so I’m excited to see what we can do.”

Box Score

Holmdel 1, Colts Neck 0

1

2

F

Colts Neck (8-6-1)

0

0

0

Holmdel (11-4-1)

1

0

1

Goals (Assists): (H) Cirigliano (Bair) 28’
Shots: Holmdel, 9-7
Saves: (CN) Caufield 4; (H) Burleigh 5