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NEPTUNE -- As the defending Shore Conference Tournament champion, the Christian Brothers Academy soccer team has players who got a chance to shine on the SCT finals stage in 2021 and that experience served the Colts well throughout this year's tournament.

There were also players getting their first taste of playing for a championship and without them, the Colts could have been eliminated well before Saturday's SCT championship game against second-seeded Howell and might not even have won the title game either.

After a scoreless first half, juniors Cameron D'Alterio and Lawrence Mancion stepped up and delivered crucial goals and the top-seeded Colts fought off the Rebels, 2-1, to win their second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship and 12th overall in program history.

Photo: Matt Manley
Photo: Matt Manley

"Last year, my first year in the Shore Conference Tournament, was definitely an amazing feeling," Mancino said. "To get to do it again, come back stronger, keeping our thing going, it all felt really good.

"It wasn’t handed to us. We definitely had to work. The first game of the season, we definitely had a quick realization that we have to work for what we want and we’re going to have to persevere through a lot of things."

Mancino was one of four starters from the 2021 team on the field Saturday night, with one of those starters -- senior Will Thygeson -- out with a hamstring injury. That group was part of a 2021 championship team that bulldozed through the SCT without allowing a goal, capping the title run with a 3-0 win over a strong Toms River North side in the final.

This year, however, CBA has had to operate in difficult situations throughout the season and during this tournament, including an overtime win in the round of 16 and a 79th-minute game-winner in the semifinals -- both of which were wins over teams seeded No. 13 or higher.

"That’s just kind of the way things have gone for us this year," CBA coach Tom Mulligan said. "That’s who we have had to be. Will has been great because he has that next-man up mentality and I think the rest of the team feels that. He has been on the varsity for three years. He has heard us talk about it in the past. The games are on the schedule and someone is going to have to go out there and represent CBA, whatever the circumstances may be. Maybe your role changes over the course of a week or a season, but everybody’s role is important."

D'Alterio is among the players who not only did not start in 2021, but didn't play at the varsity level. This year, the junior has proved himself to be an opportunistic finisher who got his chance to shine five minutes into the second half.

The two sides made it to halftime without a goal on the scoreboard and CBA was the first to change that. Junior Dylan Millevoi carried the ball toward the right corner flag and veered toward the end-line before blasting a cross in the air. D'Alterio made his run to the back post and headed the ball in for the game's first goal in the 45th minute.

"It was really special," D'Alterio said. "I didn’t really expect, coming into the season, to be playing much at all or starting. Will Thygeson has been out, I stepped in and made a good finish."

The tiebreaking goal was a special moment for D'Alterio, who is a Howell native and found himself dealing with mixed feelings while watching so many people from his own community on the opposing sideline and in the visitors bleachers to support not only the boys team, but also the girls team in the first end of the championship double-header in Neptune.

"Howell is a great team," D'Alterio said. "It’s my home town. I know all the kids, so it was a good matchup. It was very emotional for them, I know."

Ultimately, though, D'Alterio was thrilled to be the latest hero for a program that won it's 11th outright Shore Conference Tournament title and 12th overall.

"It’s a weird feeling," D'Alterio said. "I grew up playing club with a lot of them too. I also told my team how a lot of them play, so it probably helped us. I always root for them when they are not playing us."

For CBA to win on Thursday, though, the Colts would need some insurance. Early in the 61st minute, Howell attempted to clear the ball away from its goal and Mancino was ready for it coming out of the scrum. The junior outside back settled it and ripped a low, left-footed shot off the left post and in from the top of the 18-yard box to extend the CBA lead to 2-0.

"I love that he scored a goal," Mulligan said of Mancino. "I have been asking Lawrence Mancino to score a goal for us the entire year. He had one other one, but that one tonight was a crucial goal and he really hit it. They (Howell) have a really, really talented goalie (senior Charlie Scanlon) and it was going to take a quality finish to beat that kid in goal."

Mancino was active pushing forward early in the match, when CBA dominated possession for the first 10 minutes before Howell settled in. After helping out both on the attack and in the back for 60 minutes, Mancino finally took advantage of a scoring opportunity.

"I love getting involved, I love getting forward," Mancino said. "I don’t like being isolated in one position. I like getting up and down the field and then getting back to defend.

"My coaches and even my goalie Joe (Grossman) are always talking about me getting forward and trying to score. I always tell them it’s going to come one day. They said ‘Today’s the day.’ I’m running up the field, the ball came perfectly to me, I had to turn my hips a little and get across it."

Howell got back in the game in the 65th by earning corner kicks on back-to-back plays and turning the second into a goal. Senior Nick Spisak drove the ball on a line and classmate R.J. Eckelman picked it off at the near post and headed it in to cut the Colts lead to 2-1.

"We started the game well and I told the boys at halftime we probably left a few goals on the field," Mulligan said. "But that’s soccer and I said the last ten minutes (of the half) was a little concerning as far as all their restarts and some suspect marking on our part. Obviously, that showed in the latter part of the game when they knocked one in off a corner kick."

CBA was the team winning the corner kicks in the first half, but when Howell finally got a pair of them in close proximity, the Rebels made sure to cash in with Spisak's precision service and Eckelman's relentlessness in the box.

"Once they scored that header, it was definitely a quick change," Mancino said. "We definitely got back into it and realized the game’s not over. We still had ten, fifteen more minutes. We can’t doze off; we always have to be in it. They were pushing hard at the end, so it came down to the wire.

Although Howell made things interesting for the final 15 minutes, CBA's defense clamped down the rest of they way to seal the win -- the 15th in a row for the Colts since dropping an overtime loss to Marlboro on opening day.

"The Shore Conference Tournament, in many ways, is a harder tournament to win than the state tournament for a lot of teams," Mulligan said. "You have 30 teams entering a tournament and only one is coming out victorious. I don’t know many brackets in the state that go up to 30 teams. You get a bunch of high school kids together and they are all playing like it’s their last game, it’s a challenge. I don’t care who you are playing, every game is going to be competitive.

"Howell is a good team," Mulligan said. "They are a Group IV school, an A North rival and they are a well-coached group. Coach Yuro does a great job with those kids and there is no quit in them. It’s always going to be a good game and it’s always hard to beat Howell."


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