HAZLET - With losses in its first four games, the Shore Regional boys soccer team fell off the radar within the first two weeks of the 2018 season.

After two dramatic wins in the NJSIAA tournament, the Blue Devils are dominating the airspace in the second season.

For the second straight game, Shore - the No. 14 seed in the Central Jersey Group II bracket - pulled off an overtime upset on the road, this time stunning No. 6 Raritan, 1-0, Thursday on a golden goal by senior Ryan Bongarzone 59 seconds into the first period of extra time.

Ryan Bongarzone (13) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the golden goal vs. Raritan on Thursday. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Ryan Bongarzone (13) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the golden goal vs. Raritan on Thursday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"After starting the season 0-4, we were down," Bongarzone said. "We were down for most of the season, but then the playoffs came and we just wanted to win. We got better and we knew we wanted to end the season as a winner."

Not only did Shore begin its season with four straight losses; the Blue Devils also started 1-6 and 2-8 before finally stringing three straight wins together. To make it even more frustrating, seven of those eight losses were by a margin of one goal and nine of their 13 losses overall were by a single goal.

That explains why Shore is still four games below a .500 winning percentage after Thursday's win but has still cumulatively outscored its opponents, 38-37, for the season.

"I am really happy for the seniors on the team because they could have easily packed it in after the start we got off to," Shore coach Christian Pontier said. "We lost close game after close game and after like six or seven of them, it would be hard to blame them if they just said, 'That's it.'

"This was a group that led us to 13 wins last year and won a lot as freshmen, so they weren't used to that. I think that once the state tournament came, they realized this was a chance for them to put the regular season behind them and make one last mark on the program. I'm just really happy to see them enjoying this because they have been through a lot this year."

After playing Raritan evenly in the first half and even winning the shot advantage, 6-4, Shore labored to slow down the Rockets pressure and turn around with an attack of its own. Ultimately, though, senior goalkeeper Chris Panduri and the defense did not let Raritan's threat turn into a deficit.

Panduri, in particular, was instrumental in the effort, saving an early shot by senior Nick Bavarro with a one-handed grab and later stopping Raritan leading scorer Jake Fortune on a breakaway in the 70th minute.

"His head was down, he wasn't looking up, so I just jumped on the ball," Panduri said. "I came up with it, which I got really lucky with."

"When it comes to All-Division and All-County, he doesn't always have the stats that some of the top guys have," Pontier said. "But when I talk to other coaches about him, they are like, 'Your keeper is so good.' And he is. He is a three-year starter and he has just been phenomenal."

Senior defender Max Cameron - the hero on Monday after scoring the golden goal to beat Delaware Valley - came through in the clutch again when he cleared away a shot heading for the goal after Panduri came off his line in the 73rd.

The two key defensive plays laid the groundwork for Shore to fire out of the gate in overtime and a fire out the Blue Devils did. Junior Conor Creighton broke free down the middle and slid a pass to his left toward the top left corner of the 18-yard box.

Bongarzone took a touch and unleashed a far-post strike that sneaked inside the bar and out of the reach of a diving Gavin Hersey to end the game less than a minute into extra time.

"I saw I was open, I just placed it and I was like, 'Oh, I think this is going in.' And it did," Bongarzone said.

Like his counterpart Fortune on the other side, Bongarzone was the target of the majority of the defense's attention - much of it physical in nature. Bongarzone had to sit out for a period of the second half after going down hard but did return for the final minutes of regulation.

"They are very scrappy but we knew if we could just keep calm and play our game, we could win," Bongarzone said.

Thursday's game was a rematch of one of Shore's one-goal losses - a 1-0 Raritan victory back on Sept. 26. The Rockets won the game on a second-half penalty kick by senior Zack May.

"The first time we played Raritan, we lost on a PK that was on an unfortunate call," Panduri said. "That showed us that we could play with them. They didn't score a regular goal so we came in ready to win."

With Thursday's win, the Blue Devils march into the sectional semifinals, which means a trip to play No. 10 Carteret after the Ramblers knocked off No. 2 Roselle on Thursday. Shore already took out No. 3 Delaware Valley during Monday's opening round and both the Nos. 4 (Rahway) and 5 (South Plainfield) also fell in round one.

The only team seeded in the top nine remaining in CJ II is defending champion Holmdel, which scored eight goals against each of its first two state tournament opponents.

Even in a bracket filled with surprised teams still playing, Shore is the lowest-seeded among them, which has been exactly how the Blue Devils have liked things so far.

"Anything is possible in the postseason," Panduri said. "You just have to keep playing hard and you never know when that opportunity is going to come. It was a tough season, but we have come ready to play twice and it has paid off for us."


Box Score

Shore 1, Raritan 0 (OT)

Shore (8-13)0011
Raritan (9-9-1)0000

Goals (Assists): (S) Ryan Bongarzone (Conor Creighton) 81'
Shots: Raritan, 10-8
Saves: (S) Chris Panduri 6; (R) Gavin Hersey 3


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