Boys Soccer – CBA Makes History With Third Straight Shore Conference Title
NEPTUNE -- Lawrence Mancino and Dylan Millevoi were already rarities as players who started as sophomores for the Christian Brothers Academy soccer team.
On Saturday, at the conclusion of the Shore Conference Tournament championship game against Howell, the two seniors became the first of their kind: starters on three straight CBA Shore Conference Tournament championship teams.
Senior John Gambale curled in the game's first goal and junior Brayden Perry added the exclamation-mark goal in the 61st as the Colts blanked the Rebels, 2-0, to claim their third consecutive Shore Conference Tournament championship and 13th overall.
Only one team prior to Saturday had ever won as many as three consecutive SCT championship and this year's Colts team is the first at CBA to ever do it. Jackson Memorial won five consecutive titles from 1988 to 1992, including a co-championship with CBA in 1988.
The last time CBA had a chance to win three straight conference championships was in 2017 -- the second season as head coach for current head man Tom Mulligan. The Colts were the No. 1 seed that season, but lost to Toms River South on penalty kicks in the quarterfinal round.
The following season, CBA lost to Ocean on a golden goal in the championship game before going on to win the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship on a golden goal of its own. Mulligan made sure to point out to his team how quickly a championship can slip through a team's grasp.
"I told them we had a chance to win three in a row and whether it has been penalties or golden goal, we have had it taken away from us," Mulligan said. "When you come in as a freshman or a sophomore and you see the older group win a championship, you get to see where the bar is. It's a testament to this group that they embraced those expectations and then put in the work required to reach them."
Howell played like the motivated team early on and started strong on Saturday with a furious first 15 minutes. CBA made the most of that one shot, however, and it came in the 19th minute.
Senior Lawrence Mancino shook free of the defense and carried the ball toward the goal before sliding it over to Gambale on the right side of the field. Gambale led his defender toward the end-line, cut the ball back toward the top of the box, and uncorked a left-footed shot that skipped into the far-side netting.
"It's something I have dreamed of," said Gambale, who is in his first year as a starter after coming off the bench as a varsity letter-winner in 2022. "Coming into this year, I was hoping to have a bigger role, I knew that I was ready and it was great to get that goal in this game."
Howell owned a 5-1 advantage in shots at halftime, but trailed on the scoreboard.
Once CBA jumped on top on the scoreboard, the Colts took over control. CBA dominated play throughout the second half and turned that 5-1 shot deficit into a 9-6 advantage for the game.
In the 61st minute, CBA's possession advantage turned into an insurance goal. Perry tracked down a long free kick by senior defender Christian DeOliveira, created space and buried a shot into the far right corner of the goal to extend the CBA lead to 2-0.
CBA made its third consecutive championship run without another senior who was instrumental in each of the past two SCT championships. Midfielder Dimitry Corba -- who was the first player off the bench for most of the 2021 season -- missed his second straight game with a knee injury.
It was the second straight season CBA played the bulk of the SCT without a key starter; Shore Sports Network 2022 Player of the Year Will Thygeson missed the last three rounds of the tournament due to injury and CBA still won it all without him.
"We have experience in this situation with Will last year," said Mancino, who scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in last year's championship win over Howell. "It was a big loss, but as coach always says: 'Next man up.' We have a lot of good players and we are confident in everybody."
Since Corba left the Oct. 13 overtime win over Marlboro with the injury, CBA has not allowed a goal and has taken out three Shore Conference Class A North division foes to finish off the championship. The Colts defense, midfielders Mancino and junior Phil Bodenski and senior goalkeeper Miles Gallagher led the effort in bottling up each of CBA's last three opponents -- including Howell on Saturday.
"That's just instilled in us early on, that next-man-up mentality," Gambale said. "We always practice with each other and we compete hard. That gets us ready for anything once we get into the season and into the tournaments."
Mancino has experience both on CBA's back line and in the midfield during his time as a starter. After playing his natural left outside back position as a sophomore and junior, Mancino has shifted to center midfield this season.
"I didn't know that (position change) was going to happen, so it kind of caught me off-guard," said Mancino, who scored four goals as a defender last year and has scored five this season. "Once I started playing there, I started seeing new things and I think it has made me a better left back. I'm seeing the field in a way I hadn't really seen it before."
"I have asked so much of Larry this year," Mulligan said of Mancino. "I know he is somewhat of a fish out of water in the middle of the park -- his entire existence, I believe, has been in the back. I am still waiting to score a really big goal for us. He has scored a few goals and I think he's got more in him."
With Mancino up in the formation, DeOliveira has stepped up as the captain of the back-line as a second-year starter, while senior Conor Melor has taken over at the other center back spot. Senior Sean Galvin has taken over Mancino's old spot at left back, with senior Dan Dinnell on the other side.
Neither Mancino nor Millevoi scored on Saturday, but both stayed involved and drew defensive attention. In addition to the assist on Gambale's goal, Mancino also got a point-blank chance and was rebuked by Howell senior goalkeeper Patrick Martin. Millevoi sliced a shot just over the bar later in the second half on his best opportunity of the night.
Howell, meanwhile, fell short vs. CBA for the second straight season in the SCT final. The Rebels made it to the SCT final for the third time in program history and were in search of its first title since 2007.
With six juniors in the starting lineup, Howell is set up for a possible return next year as well.
"Howell is Howell: fast, athletic, skilled, well-coached," Mulligan said. "They have only lost one other game this year and that happened against CBA on our turf. I have a lot of respect for coach (Rich) Yuro and the Howell program."
As for CBA, the Colts started nine seniors on Saturday night and that group left a lasting impression -- one they hope to add to in the NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament.
"I played here a long time ago and all my assistants played here," Mulligan said. "There is a tradition, a culture and an expectation at CBA, so when it comes to these moments, this is what all the work was for. All the preparation is to play against championship-level teams so that, hopefully, we can play like a championship-level team. And it seems to be working."
CBA 2, Howell 0
Goals (Assists): (CBA) John Gambale (Lawrence Mancino) 19'; (CBA) Brayden Perry (Christian DeOliveira) 61'
Shots: CBA, 9-6
Saves: (H) Patrick Martin 2; (CBA) Miles Gallagher 3