PT. PLEASANT BORO - For the past year, whenever the players on the Ocean boys soccer team thought they had put the most embarrassing loss of their high school careers behind them, someone was there to remind them about it.

"Everywhere we go in the state, it seems like that's what we're known for," senior captain and center fullback Zach Sintic said. "Players would be taunting us with it: '7-to-1.'"

After carrying the weight of a blowout loss to Holmdel on its own home field in last year's Shore Conference Tournament final for an entire year, the Spartans had a chance to redeem themselves Monday night at Point Boro High School.

Instead of being known as the team that lost a conference championship game, 7-1, on their home field, they will now be known as the team that ended Holmdel's shot at a perfect season and knocked out the defending champs in 2018.

Senior goalkeeper Max Winters saved two penalty kicks, including one by Holmdel standout Anthony Arena, and Ocean converted all four of its shootout attempts to complete an upset of the top-seeded Hornets in penalties, 4-2, after a 2-2 draw over 100 minutes.

"We had nothing to lose," said Sintic, one of seven returning starters from last year's team. "Nobody thought we were going to win, but here we are."

With Monday night's triumph, Ocean will play in the Shore Conference Tournament final for the 10th time on Wednesday night and will take on No. 3 seed Christian Brothers Academy - a rematch of the 2015 title game as well as a regular-season game on Sept. 29.

"It sucked," Winters said of giving up seven goals to Holmdel. "There is no other way to say it. We worked really hard all offseason to put ourselves in this spot and we knew we were prepared. Throughout the season, we tried to take it one game at a time but in the back of our mind, we knew we had this in our future."

"We really didn't talk about it much, or at least we tried not to," second-year Ocean head coach John Terlecsky said. "We always talk about being a team that is built for the postseason and most of the year focused on building up to that.

"After we scrimmaged Holmdel in the preseason, I told the guys, 'You can't make this year just about Holmdel. It will drive you crazy. You just have to keep working, keep improving if we play the way we are capable, then we would probably get another shot at Holmdel."

In order to make it to a round of kicks, Ocean had to overcome a 1-0 halftime deficit and later a penalty-kick equalizer by Holmdel that swung the momentum back to the side of the Hornets during the final 26 minutes of play.

Trailing 1-0 and fighting against a Holmdel side that had allowed only six goals all season entering the game and no more than one in any single game, Ocean saw a rare mistake by the Holmdel defense and took advantage of it. In the 63rd minute, Luke Yates played the ball up to fellow senior Santieno Harding from midfield. Holmdel's defense let Harding slip behind it and Holmdel goalkeeper Jack Murray was a step late getting to the ball, which Harding won and slipped inside the near post for the equalizer.

"I thought we were able to apply some pressure on them at the end of the first half and that was really the first sign that we were starting to get something going," Terlecksy said. "Against a team like that, you're looking for any opening you can get and we finally got a good opportunity and Santieno made a great play."

With the Spartans fired up, Harding again delivered for his team in the 66th. The senior forward chased down the ball in the left corner, muscled past a defender near the end line and whistled a cross in the air to the front of the goal. Senior James Schutz came flying toward the front of the net with a diving header and connected to score the go-ahead goal.

"Unreal," Winters said of the Schutz goal. "He has been battling injuries the last couple years and right there, he gave up his body for the team. He's very athletic, he put his body on the line, laid out and made an unreal play."

Holmdel, however, did not go quietly and with exactly six minutes left on the clock in regulation, senior Mark McStay earned a penalty kick when he was pushed going for a shot attempt inside the 18-yard box.

Arena stepped up and ripped the penalty kick to the lower left to tie the game at 2-2.

"That was unfortunate," Terlecsky said. "We had a really quality officiating crew tonight, I thought that was a tough call that went against us but fortunately we were able to overcome it."

Holmdel was the aggressor in the final six minutes of regulation, as well as throughout the 20 minutes of overtime. Arena and junior Jack Giamanco - who scored Holmdel's first goal off a long throw-in by senior Peter Vassilakos in the 25th - each had clean looks at the goal from near the edge of the six-yard box but were both denied by Winters.

In the sixth minute of overtime, senior Mark McStay headed a long cross from Arena off the crossbar. Holmdel also nearly made it 2-1 when and Ocean defender headed a throw-in off the bottom of the crossbar in the first half.

In total, Holmdel outshot Ocean, 28-7, over the 100 minutes and forced Winters to make 12 saves while Murray stopped just two.

"We weren't going to get away from our gameplan," Terlecsky said. "They are a really dangerous team and we knew we were going to have to be more defensive, so we played disciplined, kept everything in front and tried to take advantage of some counters. It's not the way we like to play most games, but we knew that's when it was going to take today."

Those 12 saves by Winters were nothing compared to two he made during the shootout. Winters will not play soccer in college, not because he is not capable but rather because he is a standout baseball catcher committed to play at William and Mary. All of those blocked balls in the dirt and 90-mile-per-hour fastballs he faced prepared him to deal with the normally overpowering force of Arena's shots, which the Holmdel star and Monmouth University commit let loose throughout the match.

"In baseball, I'm behind the plate blocking balls and in the summer I'm seeing 90-mile-an-hour fastballs plus," Winters said. "This is nothing compared to that."

After failing to get a read on Arena on in-game penalty kick, Winters followed his gut when staring down Arena again on the first attempt of the shootout. After Arena beat him to his right, Winters dove to his left and punched Arena's rocket away from the frame to open the penalty round with a statement.

From there, Schutz, Harding and senior Leonardo Montesinos converted Ocean's first three attempts before Winters delivered again by making another diving save to his left on an attempt by Hornets senior Torre Avitabile. Two attempts earlier, Winters was just late on another shot to his left fired by Giamanco. Senior Joe Arena then mixed it up with a shot to the other side of the goal that froze Winters, but the Spartans keeper stayed to his left side on Holmdel's fourth try.

Needing just one more conversion to advance, Ocean senior Luke Yates buried his shot and with it, Ocean's 2017 SCT demons, to the right side of the goal to set off the celebration.

In last year's 7-1 Holmdel rout, Arena scored a championship-game record five goals, including three in the second half after scoring the game-winning in the final minute-and-a-half of the first half. Although he did convert the regulation penalty kick to both tie the game and pass Zach Bond as Holmdel's all-time leading goal-scorer (59 career goals), Ocean limited him to shots mostly from outside the 18-yard box and the two close-range looks he got, he did not convert.

In the first half, Arena one-timed a cross from senior Henry Kiechlen over the crossbar from eight yards out, straight on.

"If we were going to give them shots, we wanted to keep them outside the 18," Sintic said. "We fell apart one time on the throw-in, but we have a strong group back there and Max - what a beast. He's one of the best goalies I've ever been around. He's a stud at baseball but he sure is a stud in soccer two. He won us the game in PK's."

Ocean will try to complete its storybook run boy following up its shootout win over Holmdel with a win over 10-time SCT champion CBA. The Spartans will have to reverse a difficult recent history against the Colts, which includes a 2-0 loss in the 2015 championship game and a 3-2 loss on Sept. 29 of this year.

In that regular-season game less than four weeks back, CBA scored two goals in the first 14 minutes and later scored just three minutes after Ocean finally pulled even midway through the second half.

Now that Ocean has put last year's Holmdel loss behind it, the Spartans are hoping to make this year's championship game memorable for all the right reasons.

"We wanted that rematch as much as we wanted this one," Winters said of playing CBA for the title. "We have a chance to win a championship and we want to take advantage of it."


Box Score

Ocean 2, Holmdel 2 (Ocean advances on penalties, 4-2)

Ocean (14-3-1)020024
Holmdel (15-0-1)110022

Goals (Assists): (O) Santieno Harding (Luke Yates) 63', James Schutz (Santieno Harding) 66'; (H) Jack Giamanco (Peter Vassilakos) 25', Anthony Arena (PK) 74'
Shots: Holmdel, 28-7
Saves: (O) Max Winters 12; (H) Jack Murray 2
Penalty Kicks: (O) James Schutz, Santieno Harding, Leonardo Montesinos, Luke Yates; (H) Jack Giamanco, Joe Arena


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