OCEAN TWP. - A year ago, frustration likely got the better of Ocean forward Santieno Harding in his team's Central Jersey Group III championship loss to Toms River South.

Now a senior and with his team reeling in Tuesday's Central Jersey Group III final vs. Colts Neck, Harding had no time for frustration - only action.

Harding buried a right-footed strike to the lower left side netting with 4:08 left to break a tie and beat the fifth-seeded Cougars, 2-1, and deliver the No. 2 Spartans their second sectional championship in four years.

Photo by Paula Lopez
Photo by Paula Lopez

"It was awesome, man," Harding said. "The whole game, I had just been working for it. I wasn't getting all the calls but I was working for it, so I got it."

Colts Neck pulled even in the 70th minute when senior Brooks Condon slammed in a follow-up shot after Ocean goalkeeper Max Winters collided with another player and lost the ball.

In the 76th, senior Leonardo Montesinos swung the ball over to Harding, who took a touch to his weaker right side and ripped a shot with his off leg that tucked into the side netting.

"I was sniffing the net for a little bit and just telling myself, 'I gotta get this goal. It's the finals,'" Harding said. "No one knows I have a right foot so when they gave me that, I knew I could take it."

"We tell him all the time to use his right foot," Ocean coach John Terlecsky said. "He has shown he can do it and I think it's just one of those things where the more you do it, the more comfortable you get at it. Hopefully this puts it in his head that he can finish with his right foot."

Harding nearly scored an equalizing goal in last year's final against Toms River South, but it was waved off due to a foul called on Harding. Ocean went on to lose the game, 2-1. On Thursday, Harding routinely faced double-teams and hit the turf on several occasions. He also had a close-range shot stoned by Colts Neck keeper Dylan Jacobs in the first 10 minutes.

"At halftime, he (Harding) brought up the Toms River South game last year when he thought he wasn't getting some foul calls that he thought he was earning," Terlecsky said. "We just told him to put it behind him and play. He is good enough to fight through it, he just couldn't get frustrated. There is always going to be some adversity and I thought he did a great job of putting it behind him and continuing to work."

Ocean dominated the first 20 minutes of the game and had a 1-0 lead to show for it. Harding popped a cross to the far left post and senior James Schutz headed it down and in for the game's first goal.

Colts Neck weathered the storm and made it to halftime trailing by just a goal. Then, in the second half, the Cougars began to advance closer to the Ocean goal and forced Winters to go to work. By the end of the game, Ocean edged Colts Neck on shots, 8-6.

"When our backs are against the Wall, we tend to respond," Terlecsky said. "We probably got a little complacent after getting that early lead and to Colts Neck's credit, they kept fighting us. Once they got the goal, I think it gave us a chance to refocus and I'm sure it lit a fire under the guys."

Colts Neck opened the year 2-5, a stretch that included a 1-0 loss to Ocean on the road. The Cougars proceeded to go 10-2 over their next 12 games to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament, advance a round as a No. 23 seed, crack the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and reach the sectional final round for the first time since winning Group I in 2000.

"Ocean had more talent in key spots, but out guys are just so resilient and fight tooth and nail," Colts Neck Art Colier said via email following the game. "I think (senior midfield) Ethan Kilmnick showed himself to be an overlooked player by many. I honestly thought he was the best player on the field today.

"In any event, the slightest of margins separated the teams. Our boys really did leave it all on the field."

Condon's game-tying goal was another clutch tally by the senior forward. He scored the game-tying goal in the Cougars' semifinal win over Neptune before Kilmnick gave them the lead with a penalty kick. Condon finished the season with nine goals, including eight in Colts Neck's final 11 games without scoring more than one in any game.

Ocean is now unbeaten over its last nine games (8-0-1) and will put that streak on the line in the Group III semifinals Tuesday at Toms River North vs. South Jersey Group III champion Seneca. With two more wins, this Ocean team can become the first in program history to win a division championship, Shore Conference Tournament championship and an overall Group title in the same season.

"I have been around this program since before I was even in high school, watching the games as a kid growing up around here," said Terlecsky, who was a senior on Ocean's first SCT championship team in 1994. "There is a lot of tradition so I think there is definitely some motivation there to do something that hasn't been done."


Box Score

Ocean 2, Colts Neck 1

Colts Neck (12-8)011
Ocean (19-3-1)112

Goals (Assists): (CN) Brooks Condon (Michael Ricciardi) 70'; (O) James Schutz (Santieno Harding) 13', Santieno Harding (Leo Montesinos) 76'
Shots: Ocean, 8-6
Saves: (CN) Dylan Jacobs 4; (O) Max Winters 3


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