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Ties against two of the top three seeds in the Shore Conference Tournament are results that suggest the Raritan boys soccer team could be dangerous as a No. 16 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament, which began Thursday at home for the Rockets against No. 17 Matawan.

Raritan's Dan McAree (8) lines up a ball in the air while contending with Matawan's Matt Isaacson (left) and Brendan Howley (right). (Photo by Matt Manley)

Instead, the Rockets players saw those ties against No. 2 Holmdel and No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven as a sign that they need to get even better for the postseason.

Thursday’s performance showed that Raritan’s players are taking that sign to heart, as the Rockets jumped on top of the Huskies and held on for a 2-1 win in the SCT opening round. Raritan will travel to top-seeded Manalapan for the round of 16 on Saturday.

“I know most people are going to say those ties were good and some of the players on the team even were happy to almost beat them, but I know I was disappointed that we didn’t win any of those games,” said junior midfielder Cassidy Tripolitis, who scored the first of Raritan’s two goals on Thursday. “It made us want to work harder in order to be good enough to not only win those games, but get better with every game. On our best day we can beat anybody, but we’ve had some games this year that have taught us we’re not good enough to just show up with less than our best and beat anybody.”

Tripolitis opened up the scoring in the 11th minute with a perfectly placed shot from just inside the 18-yard box on the left side. He took a pass from Patrick Goggins, took a touch back to toward the middle of the field and bent a shot off the far right post and into the corner of the goal.

“I got a pass from (Goggins) in pretty good position to do something, but in order to get the angle and the lane I needed, I had to take a touch to the middle,” Tripolitis said. “That opened it up enough and I just try to get it far post.”

[onescreen item="5153315"]The Rockets extended their lead in the 48th minute when junior Ryan Casciani ran onto a headball flicked by sophomore Barry O’Sullivan and buried a shot into the back of the net from close range for a 2-0 advantage.

“We have a lot of trust in one another when we’re making our runs and possessing the ball,” Casciani said. “We have a few guys who can score and whoever gets the ball in position, we all have confidence they can put the ball in the back of the net.”

Raritan’s execution on around the net helped overcome Matawan’s advantage in possession in the midfield and a 10-8 advantage in shots. In addition to the two goals, the Rockets also had a number of chances near the Matawan goal, including a 12-yard shot by senior Dan McAree that clanged off the right post instead of finding the net for a 3-0 Raritan lead.

The Huskies cut the Raritan lead in half in the 73rd minute after a takedown in the box set up a Matawan penalty kick. Senior Alex Cella stepped up and buried a shot into the right side of the frame to pull the Huskies within 2-1.

“What we were concerned about most was their ability to counter,” Raritan coach Ron Poll said of Matawan. “We had our backs sit a little bit more than we might have liked to because we don’t have the speed that they do up top and it faired our way today. They had some chances, but my defense came up big and we’re just happy to go to the next round.”

Matawan had one golden opportunity to tie the score when senior Joe Garofalo headed a cross past Raritan goalkeeper Alex Pruckowski and toward the goal. Rockets enior defender Justin McAree, however, was there to clear the ball off the end-line with three minutes left to spoil Matawan’s last quality chance.

Not many shots got past Pruckowski as Garofalo’s header did. The senior goalkeeper made five saves, including a sprawling save on a dangerous shot by Sam Labinger with 30 seconds left in the first half that preserved a 1-0 Rockets lead going into the break.

“To Alex’s credit, he’s been working really hard in training,” Poll said. “We’ve been working with him in training and spending time with him, and because he is as good of an athlete as he is, he’s been able to pick up what we’ve been teaching him very quickly. We couldn’t be more pleased with him filling in the shoes of (graduated keeper) Charles Seelinger, who’s now up at Ramapo (College).”

While Pruckoswki shined for Raritan, Matawan was without senior goalkeeper Dylan Ahrens, who is nursing a foot injury with his right foot in a walking boot. Sophomore Colin Thompson made two saves for Matawan and had little chance to make a play on either Raritan score.

“It hurt them not to have their keeper and we knew that we wanted to test them a little bit more than we might have,” Tripolitis said. “In the end, I think it helped us just focus on getting our shots on the goal without trying to be too perfect.”

Raritan will look to hang tough with Manalapan just as it did in a 1-1 tie with Rumson-Fair Haven and a scoreless tie against Holmdel during the regular season. The Rockets also took Rumson to overtime in a 3-2 loss to the Bulldogs.

“We’re all buying into what’s going on here,” Tripolitis said. “Coach Poll asks a lot of us, and we might not like doing things his way sometimes, except every time he teaches us something, it ends up working. When we see those things working in the game and we play some of these teams tough, it makes us want to keep pushing.”

Box Score

Raritan 2, Matawan 1





Matawan (6-6-1, 6-5-1)




Raritan (10-4-2, 6-4-2)




Goals: (M) Cella 73’; (R) Tripolitis (Goggins) 11’, Casciani (O’Sullivan) 48’
Shots: Matawan, 10-8
Saves: (M) Thompson 2; (R) Pruckowski 5

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