MIDDLETOWN - Shane Keenan has spent his entire high school career at Christian Brothers Academy and already earned himself an athletic scholarship to play goalkeeper for the University of Connecticut beginning in the Fall of 2018.

He has not, however, been part of a Shore Conference or NJSIAA Non-Public A championship team due to his commitment to academy soccer in his first three high school years.

In his first year of high school soccer, Keenan and his CBA teammates - most of them either new varsity starters or varsity players - are enjoying the ride, especially after reaching a significant preseason goal Tuesday against Howell.

CBA junior Dominic Bellomo wards off Howell junior Robert Saunders. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
CBA junior Dominic Bellomo wards off Howell junior Robert Saunders. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

For the fourth straight year, CBA - the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - won at least a share of the Shore Conference Class A North championship by beating the No. 3 Rebels on Tuesday, 1-0, behind the 11th shutout performance by Keenan and the defense this season.

The win also snapped Howell's eight-game winning streak, which began after the Rebels opened the season 0-2-1.

"We knew they were definitely going to be stronger this game than they were in the beginning of the year because of their win streak," Keenan said. "We expected a lot of long balls over the top, so the defense had to stay together and compact and not (too) out wide, but compact. We just held it together."

After Tuesday's result and with a home game against Neptune scheduled for Thursday, CBA is a divisional win or tie away from winning the outright A North title for the third straight year. With three more shutout, the Colts can also match the single-season record for shutouts, held by both the 2011 and 2016 teams.

"Every A North team - I don't care if it's the first-place team or the last-place team - is truly a challenge," CBA coach Tom Mulligan said. "We don't take any of the games lightly. To go through the A North schedule unscathed is really a tall task for any coach to ask of a group of 16-and-17-year-old players."

With a strong lineup throughout the formation, CBA does not have to lean on Keenan too often to bail the team out, but the senior keeper has been there when the Colts have needed him. On Tuesday, he was especially vital to the CBA win, saving all five of the nine Howell shots that were on the frame.

The best Howell chance came in the 70th minute when junior Robert Saunders played senior Brandon Downey through and into a one-on-one chance against Keenan. from the right side of the six-yard box, Downey attempted to sneak the ball to the lower far-side netting, but Keenan directed it away from the goal with a kick save.

That save made junior Dominic Bellomo's goal stand up as the winning score. Junior George Gosden slid a pass to Bellomo in the 22nd minute and CBA's leading scorer poked a left-footed shot to the far right corner of the goal as he was falling to the ground.

Howell junior Dylan Dougher had too golden opportunities to draw his team even - one in each half. Keenan saved a point-blank shot after Dougher beat the last defender in the 26th and in the first five minutes of the second half, the Rebels junior forward hit an acrobatic shot from the right side of the six-yard box that sliced just high and wide of the near corner of the goal.

Rebels junior goalkeeper Shane McBride kept his team close with five saves of his own, including a close-range shot by CBA sophomore Luke Pascarella in the sixth minute and a diving save on a volley by Pascarella in the 73rd minute.

CBA dominated possession in the first half while outshooting Howell, 5-2, in the first half, but the Rebels mounted a more dangerous attack than they did in the first while pulling even in shots for the game, 9-9.

Tuesday's game was part two of a two-game test for CBA that saw the Colts have to respond to a loss to Freehold Township on Friday with two games in two days to start this week. CBA began the week by beating Manalapan on Monday, 4-1, and then snapped the Shore's longest winning streak heading into Tuesday.

"I told the kids how proud I was of them for getting through this stretch of the season," Mulligan said. "Back-to-back games is never easy in this conference. Even when you have time to prepare, it's really a challenge."

Last year, CBA lost its only regular-season game just days before the Shore Conference Tournament, also by a score of 3-1 on its home field. The Colts went on to win the tournament in dominant fashion, which will be the goal when the SCT opens up on Monday with CBA likely to draw a first-round bye.

Each step is a new experience for Keenan and the other nine first-year starters on CBA and if the SCT is anything like the regular season, the Colts will enjoy it, at the very least.

"It's been a lot of fun for me," Keenan said. "It's the most fun I have ever had playing soccer. I love my team, too. They are all a great group of kids. Hopefully we can make it to states and win it."


Box Score

CBA 1, Howell 0

Howell (8-3-1, 8-3-1)000
CBA (14-2, 11-1)101

Goals (Assists): (CBA) Dominic Bellomo (George Gosden) 22'
Shots: Tied, 9-9
Saves: (H) Shane McBride 5; (CBA) Shane Keenan 5


More From Shore Sports Network