HOLMDEL - The Holmdel boys soccer team had its best season in program history in 2017 and it was the kind of year that should keep the Hornets in the discussion for best public school teams in the history of the conference.

As great as the 21-1-1 season was, it was missing something: a win over the gold standard of the Shore Conference.

On Saturday, Holmdel and the six returning starters from last year's team got their long-awaited shot against Christian Brothers Academy and added one more feather in their collective cap during this dominant year-and-a-half run.

Holmdel junior Mark McStay (17) celebrates his goal with Jack Russo (right). (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Holmdel junior Mark McStay (17) celebrates his goal with Jack Russo (right). (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The Hornets - the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - withstood an early wave of CBA possession and scored two goals in a span of two minutes of the second half to claw past the No. 2 Colts, 3-1, to extend their perfect start to the 2018 season.

"Last year, we were winning games 5-0, even 10-0," junior Eric Hinds said. "This year, it has been 2-1, 2-0. It's been more of a struggle. We've had to use the starters for the full game and also deal with injuries. But the whole time, we had this game circled. Once we got past (Red Bank Catholic) on Thursday, I think the excitement set in and we were ready for the challenge."

While Holmdel's six returning starters - Joe Arena, Anthony Arena, Torre Avitabile, Mark Walier, Jack Russo and Jack Murray - were especially motivated to add a win over CBA to everything they accomplished last season, it was a pair of bench players from last year who ignited Hornets on Saturday. After CBA dominated possession for the first 30 minutes of the game, Hinds beat his man and blasted a diagonal cross to the far left post hoping to get his team a scoring chance.

Fellow junior Jack Giamanco beat his man to the ball and poked it off a short hop and inside the near post for a goal that seemingly came out of nowhere after the visitors controlled the ball up to that point.

"I hadn't touched the ball at all at that point because (CBA was) pinging it around on us," Hinds said. "But I saw the defender was shielding me one way, so I went the other way. I was going to play it back to Torre, but I turned it up and fortunatel played a ball that made it to the far post. Jack G. made a great run and finished it wonderfully."

"We had to stay composed and once we got them spread out, Eric Hinds on the right side of the field played a beautiful ball to me and I finished it off," Giamanco said. "My teammates did a great job of working hard and I think that's the thing that's carried us all year. We play hard for 80 minutes."

The goal was Giamanco's team-high 11th and his production has been a necessity with the Hornets dealing with an injury to leading returning scorer Anthony Arena.

"It's obviously tough not having Anthony at full strength," Giamanco said. "He is a special player and playing with him up top makes things so much easier, but we have a lot of hard-working, talented players out there and we all play for each other. I've just gone out and tried to do my job every day."

While the goal woke up Holmdel, it did not bury CBA. The Colts responded with the equalizer in the 46th minute when junior Luke Pascarella redirected a cross from senior Joe Lozowski into the far right corner of the goal, tying the score at 1-1.

It took only 5:24 on the clock for Holmdel to answer with another go-ahead goal and it came on a bizarre play. Senior fullback and throw-in specialist Peter Vassilakos fired a throw-in from the left side and the ball carried just far enough that CBA keeper Eric Wnorowski could not handle it but short enough that he got his right hand on it. After the deflection, the ball bounced into the goal for what proved to be the game-winner.

"We haven't had that," Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said of the threat of the long throw. "We have always faced teams that had that. With the three defenders we had coming back and to get a guy who was on junior varsity playing the way he's been playing and the way he played today is huge. He is a very good defender, but to have that throw - if we don't have that, who knows how we get that second goal?"

The Hornets wasted little time adding an insurance goal, with junior Mark Walier scoring his first career goal 1:57 later. Senior Anthony Arena slipped a ball through to Walier, who made the run from his outside fullback spot and poked a shot past Wnorowski for a 3-1 Holmdel lead in the 54th minute.

"It all came from moving the ball," Walier said. "We moved it around in the back and back to the middle and I just made the run. Anton played me a great ball and all I had to do was just finish it. Being my first goal, it was the greatest feeling, but I knew we still had a lot of soccer left to play against a really good team."

"We have been pushing Walier and telling him, 'It's not just Russo that can go forward. You can make those runs too,'" Nacarlo said. "It was nice that he was in the right spot there to get his first goal."

Arena's contributed to the scoring despite not starting and being limited by a left hamstring injury that he sustained three weeks earlier in a win over Colts Neck.

"Anthony Arena is a good player but this is an all-around good team," Nacarlo said. "It was nice to show we can win a game like this without him being at 100 percent."

With a two-goal lead and 26 minutes to the finish line, Holmdel crowded the midfield and held Russo and Walier back on the outside of the defense to protect the advantage.

"We noticed that Russo loves to attack on the outside and they kept attacking that side while Russo was trying to get back," Nacarlo said. "Once we were up 3-1, we dropped Russo back and we went to five in the middle and got more defensive. They didn't really have anything too dangerous down the stretch."

The meeting between the two accomplished Shore Conference programs was just the third since 2006, which was the first year in which Holmdel won an NJSIAA sectional championship. CBA defeated Holmdel, 4-0, in the 2011 Shore Conference Tournament final on the way to a 21-0 season. Holmdel got a measure of revenge with a regular-season win at CBA in 2014.

There were two seasons in which both CBA and Holmdel were having banner seasons but did not meet in the Shore Conference Tournament. The Colts and Hornets were the top two seeds in the 2010 SCT, but Holmdel lost to Toms River North in the quarterfinals and CBA went on to win the tournament by beating Toms River North.

Last year, CBA was also the No. 1 seed but was eliminated on penalties by Toms River South in the quarterfinals. Holmdel went on to win the tournament in dominant fashion, outscoring SCT opponents 19-1 and beating Ocean 7-1 in the championship game.

This year marked the third season in which the two teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at a point during the season but the first in which they played one another, which added to the luster of a regular-season win.

"Last year, we won but we also missed out on playing CBA," Walier said. "This year, we had them on the schedule so we knew it was going to be a big game from the very beginning. We always have to take it one game at a time, so we focused on our first 10, but we were always looking forward to this 11th game and coming out and trying to win it."

By beating CBA on Saturday, it also raises the possibility of Holmdel doing something else it could not do in 2017: finished undefeated. It looks like a guarantee that the Hornets won't approach anything resembling the 122-14 goal-differential last year's team posted, but they are two wins away from making it to the postseason without a loss or a draw - which last year's team failed to do.

"Losing last year was definitely an important wake-up call," Walier said. "We have a lot of returners from last year who remember how it felt to lose against Pingry and that loss still carries over. We know that we can compete with anyone, but we can't just go out and play the game and win without bringing our full intensity."

Saturday's win likely secured Holmdel the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament, which opens next Saturday. Holmdel's last game before the seeding meeting is at Shore Regional on Wednesday. With a win or a draw, Holmdel would clinch the outright Class A Central championship for the second straight year.

"I think there is enough experience tasting defeat with the guys on the field," Nacarlo said. "They don't want to lose anymore. I don't know it losing a game would have helped like it did last year, but I think winning a big game like this shows what kind of team we are."


Box Score

Holmdel 3, CBA 1

CBA (10-3)011
Holmdel (11-0)123

Goals (Assists): (CBA) Luke Pascarella (Joe Lozowski) 46'; (H) Jack Giamanco (Eric Hinds) 31', Peter Vassilkos 52', Mark Walier (Anthony Arena) 54'
Shots: Tied, 7-7
Saves: (CBA) Eric Wnorowski 2; (H) Jack Murray 3


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