HOLMDEL - One look at Holmdel High School's boys soccer roster might prompt an observer to conclude that the Hornets are about to go through a rebuilding year. With just three seniors on the roster and only one in the starting lineup, Holmdel runs out one of the youngest starting lineups in the Shore Conference.

It's also shaping up to be one of the best.

Holmdel's young guns continued to fire on all cylinders on Tuesday, when the Hornets handed Raritan its first loss of the season, 1-0, while extending their own winning streak to four.

"People ask me how the team is and when I tell them about how young they are, the reaction is usually, 'Oh, so you're looking forward to next year,'" Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said. "My response is,'Well, not really. We're good right now.' I thought there would be an adjustment period where we'd have to gel, but they've picked it up much quicker than I ever thought they would."

Senior Leo Nobrega assisted Holmdel's goal on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Junior Mikey Neff scored the game's lone goal, ripping a shot past Raritan goalkeeper Chad Santopadre in the 60th minute. Sophomore Anthony Arena initiated the play with a throw-in and senior Leo Nobrega gathered the ball and crossed it to Neff at the near right post.

"A lot of times, I try to stay at the top of the 18 and get what comes out," Neff said. "That's what happened today. That's what happened against A.L. Johnson (in the 2015 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II semifinals. It was pretty much the same exact goal and it just comes from positioning myself and anticipating the ball getting to me."

Neff's finish midway through the first half broke up a scoreless game that included a number of chances for both teams, but no other goals. Both Santopadre and Holmdel sophomore keeper Jack Murray held firm while the opposition reached a double-digit shot total, but Raritan put only two of its 10 shot attempts on frame.

Holmdel's defense had plenty to do with Raritan's low percentage attempts, as the Hornets back line did not expose Murray to any dire situations. Raritan's two best opportunities were a 25-yard strike by Alec Fortune from a tough angle on the left side that went wide of the far post in the first half and a header on frame by Dan Del Russo shortly before Holmdel scored.

"I expected our defense to be good, but I didn't expect it to be that good, that quick," Nacarlo said. "I never had (freshman) Mark Walier in the middle with (sophomore) Torre (Avitabile). I had Murray there and when Murray went in net, I felt like Mark could definitely handle it. Even sliding Nick Guga from the central midfield position last year to left has paid off and you have (Anthony DiSaverio) on the other side as a sophomore. They are just really communicating well and have played really well overall."

The Hornets, meanwhile put seven of their 13 shots on target, forcing Santopadre into six saves. Nobrega had the most dangerous shot on the Raritan keeper with a 14-yard screamer in the first half, but Santopadre went down to get it. Sophomore Joe Area also hit a 40-yard direct kick toward the upper left corner of the frame that Santopadre had to parry up over the goal.

Holmdel sophomore Joe Arena. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The win gave the Hornets round one of at least two meetings between the teams, which have a link through their coaching staffs. First-year Raritan coach James Gelpke is a teacher at Holmdel and is a former coach in the program. He replaced Ron Poll, the eight-year head coach at Raritan who took the Rockets to an SCT semifinal and sectional final in 2009 and is now an assistant for Nacarlo at Holmdel.

With its fast start to this season, Raritan (6-1-2) has already doubled its win total from a year ago.

"This game was all about A Central," Neff said, referring to a tight Shore Conference division race so far. "We haven't had that for a while and this game was a really big one. They were ranked ahead of us in the preseason and they were undefeated so we knew this was a must-win."

Tuesday's win give Holmdel sole possession of first place in the Class A Central standings at the midway point of the regular season. The Hornets began Tuesday in fourth place behind Matawan, Raritan and Shore Regional and in addition to Holmdel beating the Rockets, both Shore Regional and Matawan lost on Tuesday to catapult the Hornets into first place.

Last season, Holmdel squandered a chance to win the A Central title early on by starting the season 2-5-1. Eventually, however, the Hornets rallied to qualify for the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group II Tournaments and even made it to the overall Group II state final, where they lost to Garfield in heartbreaking fashion.

"With our upperclassmen, we just really want to get that state title really, really badly," Neff said. "Last year's game was really disappointing so the main thing is just getting back there, but we obviously want to win A Central first."

Neff, Nobrega, Joe Arena, Guga and Avitabile were all contributors on last year's team, but that returning experience took a hit when junior Justin McStay opted not to play high school soccer this season. Last year, McStay led the team in goal-scoring despite starting the season as the sweeper and missing time in the middle of the year due to injury.

With McStay gone, however, Anthony Arena has picked up the slack. The sophomore is in his first year of high school soccer and he started his inaugural year with five goals and five assists in the team's first six games.

"We didn't want to pay too much attention to what was going on with Justin because we had to get us playing well together," McStay said. "Luckily, (Anthony Arena) has stepped up big time and we've been able to kind of pick up where we left off."

Box Score

Holmdel 1, Raritan 0

1 2 F
Raritan (6-1-2, 3-1-2) 0 0 0
Holmdel (5-1-1, 4-1-1) 0 1 1

Goals (Assists): Mikey Neff (Leo Nobrega) 60'
Shots: Holmdel, 13-10
Saves: (R) Chad Santopadre 6; (H) Jack Murray 2