MARLBORO - There was a point earlier this season when the Marlboro boys soccer team might have had some level of concern that goals might not come so easy this season.

Along the way, however, the 2016 Mustangs team has developed a scoring nack and against the best statistical defense in the Shore Conference on Tuesday, the Mustangs had a field day and earned a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament final four.

Senior Steven Karp tallied a goal and two assists and the second-seeded Mustangs pulled away late for a 4-0 win over No. 4 Middletown North to reach the SCT semifinals for the first time since winning the tournament in 2009.

“Our goal before the year was to get to this weekend and it feels good to be one step closer,” Marlboro senior defender Ryan LaRocca said, referencing Saturday’s championship game. “We see every game in this tournament as someone standing between us and where we deserve to be.”

Marlboro senior Steven Karp scored a goal and assisted two others in Marlboro's win over Middletown North. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Middletown North entered the game having allowed only nine goals in 16 games and Marlboro increased that total by nearly 50 percent. In addition to beating the Lions on the scoreboard, the Mustangs outshot the opposition 17-4 and 11-3 in shots on goal.

Both LaRocca and Karp scored on one-time finishes - LaRocca in the 22nd and Karp in the 64th. LaRocca one-timed a corner kick by Karp to open the scoring, striking Karp's ball to the near side of the box to the far corner of the goal.

“Everybody on the team knows that Karp is going to play a good ball and we’re all ready for it,” LaRocca said. “We’ve been playing together for so long, I pretty much know where he’s going with the ball and on that play, I had a good idea where it was going.”

Junior Brian Dates set up Karp's goal that made it 2-0, ripping a cross from the right endline to the back post, where Karp volleyed the ball out of the air, over his head and into the far corner of the net.

Senior Brett Easton struck three minutes after Karp scored, chipping a 16-yard shot to the far right corner of the net following a free kick by Karp and a touch by Josh Grun.

Senior Jared Markowitz tacked on a goal in the final 30 seconds on a pass from senior Dan McGrath.

James Weinberg preserved his shutout with a leaping save on an upper-90 shot with four minutes left to play - the only strenuous test of Weinberg's range in the game.

It took Marlboro 22 minutes to score, but the hosts pushed the envelope early with a number of quality chances. Leading scorer P.J. Ringel took five shots before the first goal, including a pair of misses on one-on-ones with Middletown North keeper Scott Weigel.

Middletown North played without junior forward and team assist leader Liam McGregor, who injured his leg in Saturday's win over Asbury Park. According to Middletown North coach Fred Napoli, McGregor could possibly play in the NJSIAA Tournament next week.

Marlboro's first trip to the SCT semifinals in seven years comes on the heels of a pair of bitter SCT defeats in both 2014 and 2015. The Mustangs reached the quarterfinals as a No. 19 seed in 2014 only to fall to eventual champion Freehold Township, 1-0. Last year, Marlboro dropped a 2-0 decision at Toms River South, which went on to knock off Freehold Township in the quarterfinals, reach the NJSIAA Group III final and set a school record with 21 wins.

“There was a sense of disappointment the last two years, no doubt about it,” Marlboro coach Dave Santos said. “”We thought we were good enough to get there but didn’t quite get there, so there is definitely a feeling of relief and satisfaction to get there this year, especially with 17 seniors.”

Standing between Marlboro and a third trip to the SCT final in the last decade is Freehold Township, which broke up Marlboro's long winning streak with a 2-2 tie earlier in the month. Marlboro is unbeaten over its last 17 games with 16 wins and the one draw against Freehold Township. The Mustangs beat the Patriots, 2-1, in the first meeting between the teams.

“What’s tough about matching up with them is they know our style and they know how to defend us,” LaRocca said. “Those two goals were the most we gave up in one game all year. It’s going to be a tough matchup playing those guys for a third time.”