ASBURY PARK - Asbury Park coach Jean Dortissant thought he set lofty goals for his team at the beginning of the 2016 season, but his players showed him Thursday in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I final against Palmyra that he was selling them short.

One year removed from a five-win season and 35 years after it last won an NJSIAA sectional championship, Asbury Park won the Central Jersey Group I championship by beating third-seeded Palmyra, 1-0.

To say Asbury Park won an elusive title might be misleading since the Blue Bishops have not been particularly close to winning a sectional title since winning Central Jersey Group III in 1981. Last year, the team went 5-12 overall while playing in a Class B Central division that is comprised of the smallest schools in the Shore Conference.

Photo by Matt Manley

While some programs make a leap from one year to the next because of underclass influence or the addition of returning academy players, the Blue Bishops pulled off their turnaround with mostly the same cast that was on board in 2015 - now one year older, better and more mature.

"To be honest, we had hopes to win the division, but to actually win Central Group I - I didn't envision winning this at all," said Dortissant, who is also the track and field coach at the high school and is now in his ninth year as soccer head coach. "I was telling the boys that I thought I'd win one of these in track before we got one in soccer. It's been a lot of hard work and what makes it great is they are really great kids. I'm really happy for them."

Maturity and composure went a long way toward winning Thursday's game. Not even three minutes into the match, goalkeeper Joey Johnson and junior outside back Shown Narcisse collided, left the field after several minutes on the ground and did not return.

"We preach that we're a family and in a situation like that, you need guys to stick together and trust each other," Dortissant said. "These guys are so close, they're like brothers, and like brothers, they fight sometimes, they get on each other, but it's always knowing we're family."

With a senior keeper and top defender out of the game, Asbury Park turned to junior outside midfielder Widmaier Beaubrun in goal, taking a key piece out of the field in order to cover the goal.

"It was a little scary to see that happen," Beaubrun said. "When Joey left the game, I went to coach and said, 'I'm ready. Give me the shirt. I can do this.'"

The Blue Bishops responded to the loss almost immediately, converting their first corner fick into a goal 5:05 into the game. Junior Stevenson Jean Baptiste swung the corner toward the far left post and junior Davensky JoinVilmar headed it down toward the front of the goal. Amid a sea of bodies, senior Fenelson Etienne stuck his foot out and poked the ball into the net for the game's lone goal.

"That was huge," Dortissant said. "When you lose a player like Joey - who I think is a top-three goalie in the Shore Conference and a vocal leader on the team - plus a top defender like Shown, it can be a big blow mentally. Getting that goal as quick as we did really picked us up and we were able to get right back in the game."

Widmaier Beaubrun (center, headband) clutches the NJSIAA sectional championship trophy. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The score was the fourth in four tournament games for Etienne - all of which came in the three Asbury Park wins that were decided by a one-goal margin.

Palmyra put the pressure on over the remaining 76 minutes but the patchwork Asbury Park defense and backup keeper answered the challenge. JoinVilmar - the team's leading scorer - shifted to defensive center midfield to cover the back line and during the second half, Dortissant moved another scoring threat in senior Ronald JeanVilma to the back to try to keep the Panthers off the board.

"I can play any position coach needs me to play so playing defense wasn't a big deal for me," JoinVilmar said. "We had to make sure they didn't score so I had no problem playing defense and trying to help us win."

"It helps to have so many versatile players and Davensky and Ronald JeanVilma are two of the guys we know we can play anywhere," Dortissant said.

Beaubrun - a captain as a junior - made six key saves to preserve the 1-0 lead for Asbury Park and controlled the box despite lacking the size and experience of Johnson - the B Central all-division keeper.

"He's one of our leaders and he's our backup keeper, so I had confidence that he would be able to handle the job," Dortissant said. "He has good hands and good instincts so I thought we'd be okay if we defended well."

"I knew I had do just do the job," Beaubrun said. "Anything I had to do, I was going to do it."

Two of Palmyra's best chances, however, were beyond saving for Beaubrun. First, a header by freshman Fisher Hudak in the 47th minute on a cross from junior Brett Maute sailed just wide of the left post with that side of the goal exposed. Later, Asbury Park sophomore defender Wenderlens Garius cleared a ball off the endline after it leaked through a host of players to the back right post.

For the final 20 minutes, Beaubrun had the box under control and as the clock ticked away, the Blue Bishops completed one of the more improbable turnarounds in recent Shore Conference history. Before winning a sectional title, Asbury Park won the Class B Central title for the first time since the 1980's and earned the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I bracket.

The renaissance season continues Tuesday at Haddonfield High School, where Asbury Park will play South Jersey Group I champion Haddon Township. Asbury Park should be whole again, as coaching staff said both Johnson and Narcisse should have enough time off to be ready to play.

Regardless of the outcome, a massive facelift for a previously dormant soccer program is complete.

"Words can't describe what this feels like," Beaubrun said. "I just can't believe we did this. It's so great for the school, for coach, for the program. It's just great."


Box Score

Asbury Park 1, Palmyra 0

Palmyra (17-5)000
Asbury Park (18-3-1)101

Goal (Assist): (AP) Fenelson Etienne (Davensky JoinVilmar) 6'
Shots: Palmyra, 11-6
Saves: (P) Liam Brett 2; (AP) Joey Johnson 0, Widmaier Beaubrun 6