Boys Soccer – Ocean Survives High-Scoring Showdown with Monmouth to Reach SCT Semis
OAKHURST - During its 12-game unbeaten streak heading into Friday's Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal game against Monmouth, Ocean had not allowed more than two goals in a game and scored four or more goals just once.
The Spartans did both on Friday against the upstart No. 20 seed Falcons and needed every one of its four goals to move on the SCT.
Santieno Harding scored his second goal of the game on a header in the 73rd minute to cap a wild sequence and give the fifth-seeded Spartans a hectic, 4-3 win over the Falcons in the third meeting between the Class B North rivals. Ocean has not lost in its last 13 matches, going 12-0-1.
"This game was so much fun to play in," senior forward Steve Carton said. "It's a high-scoring game, there are goals coming every couple of minutes. It's exciting to be a part of it, especially when you can win it."
PHOTO GALLERY: Monmouth at Ocean by Paula Lopez
"I told the team earlier in the tournament that it might take a fist fight one of these days to advance," Ocean first-year head coach John Terlecsky said. "I think that definitely happened out there today. I knew we could win that kind of game, but we've been trying to preach playing some possession soccer, get numbers forward and do all that, and we've been doing that for the last 12 games. I know we can do both if we have to."
Ocean led on three different occasions in the second half and Monmouth answered two of them within two minutes to set up Harding's winning goal. Luke Yates scored off a Zach Sintic free kick in the 55th minute to give Ocean a 2-1 lead before Hoover Cano tied it at 2-2 in the 57th.
"The third time playing these guys, we knew it was going to be tough," Yates said. "They have some really good players, but we were confident to play against anybody. These boys have a lot of heart. That's the reason I'm never worried in any game."
Carton delivered the next tie-breaking goal, nailing a 30-yard strike that banged off the bottom of the crossbar and in for a 3-2 Ocean lead in the 70th minute.Just 1:09 later, however, Joel Burgos scored his second goal of the game by one-timing a free kick by Brian Waltsak into the goal.
"If they give you the inside, you have to take it," Carton said, describing his go-ahead laser. "I just took the first touch, looked up, saw the goal and had room. After that, you don't think. You just look for the back post and hit it there."
"It's pure excitement when we take the lead, especially on Steve-o's goal," Yates said. "That was awesome. But we just had a couple mental mistakes and it was very disappointing to concede those goals, but as soon as the whistle blew to start it back up, it's in the back of our heads and were back at it."
Ocean's winning goal came two minutes after Burgos's equalizer and started with a throw-in by Yates. The ball made its way to the far post and Elias Brandimarte headed it over Monmouth goalkeeper Dominick Santaniello to the front of the goal. Mark Mauro kept it alive with his head and Harding elevated to head the ball in uncontested. Harding's second goal capped a stretch of three goals in just over six minutes of game clock.
"We have a dangerous attack but the goals just haven't been coming that much," Yates said. "We knew they were there, so we just stayed the course and we knew they'd come eventually."
Burgos and Harding traded goals in the first half to send the game to halftime tied, 1-1. In the first meeting between the two teams in September, Harding outdueled Burgos by a 3-2 count in goals - part of a 4-2 Ocean win. Burgos did not play in a 2-0 Ocean win at Monmouth two weeks ago and also missed Monmouth's 1-0 win over Freehold Township due to a thigh bruise.
Despite missing two weeks worth of games, plus the Freehold Township game, Burgos still leads the Shore Conference with 25 goals.
"We tried to always have two guys in his vicinity and maybe we should have tried to have three guys in his vicinity all game," Terlecsky said. "He does a good job with so many guys around him. There's no doubt he's gotten the job done and he's scored on us in both game. He's a threat."
Hardin has also battled a knee injury for much of the season, which cause him to sit out in a 1-0 first-round win over Lakewood and also limited him in the shootout win over Point Pleasant Boro on Wednesday. He was unlimited on Friday and made the difference by scoring the first and final Ocean goals to once again sink Monmouth Regional.
"I think the adrenaline started to kick in against Point Boro and he looked a lot better today," Terlecsky said. "We've won some games without him, but we're definitely a much more dangerous team when he's close to 100 percent."
Ocean will play the winner of Saturday's game between No. 1 CBA and No. 8 Toms River South in the semifinals on Monday at Ocean Township, which was the predetermined neutral site for the tournament.
Since winning the SCT in 2012, Ocean has been to the conference semifinals in four out of the last six years, which is more appearances than any other program in that span. For the first time, the Spartans - who have been to eight championship games and won four - will challenge for the conference tittle on their home turf.
"Everyone loves playing in big games, under the lights, in front of the big crowd," Yates said. "That's what high school soccer is all about. In the back of our heads, every time we would give up a goal, we would just dig down and think, 'There will be triple the amount of people here if we win.' Now we're looking forward to having that Big Red Army out here."