PT. PLEASANT BOROUGH - Leonardo Montesinos transferred to Ocean Township High School from Shore Regional before the current school year as the potential final piece to the Ocean boys soccer team's championship puzzle.

On Wednesday night in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game against Christian Brothers Academy, that last piece of the puzzle was also the last man to touch the ball in one of the great finishes in the history of the SCT.

Montesinos headed in the golden goal 3:05 into the second overtime period to stun third-seeded CBA, 1-0, and set off a chaotic celebration along the Ocean sideline as the No. 4 Spartans celebrated their fifth conference title and first since 2012.

"It's my first year here and I can't believe (the tournament) ended like this," Montesinos said. "I love my teammates, I love everyone here - Ocean is just amazing. To do it with them means the world."

Photo by Paula Lopez
Photo by Paula Lopez

The championship-clinching goal came off a throw-in from senior Luke Yates and a flicked header by senior defender Brent Gaber. Yates's throw reached the near post and Haber sent the header to the back post with CBA goalkeeper Eric Wnorowski covering the near side of the goal. Montesinos charged toward the far side of the frame and slammed in an uncontested header to turn a potential anticlimactic, scoreless draw into one of the great finishes in the tournament's 35-year history.

"I can't really describe what I am feeling right now," said Yates, one of Ocean's captains. "Seventeen years of work, of running sprints, of extra touches on the ball in practice and outside of practice - it all pays off. We couldn't have done it without our fans, the coaches, our parents - it's indescribable."

Montesinos was a three-year starter at Shore and an All-Shore selection as a junior last year. The senior center midfielder moved over the summer, enrolled at Ocean and joined a group of players that he has played with in the club ranks.

"Last year, I didn't really know any of the players (on Shore) and I was trying to fit in," Montesinos said. "The chemistry wasn't really there. These guys, I have played with them my whole life. The way that we have chemistry is unbelievable. We have been playing since we were eight years old and when I came here, I fit in perfectly."

Ocean senior Leonardo Montesinos celebrates his golden goal and Ocean's SCT championship. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Ocean senior Leonardo Montesinos celebrates his golden goal and Ocean's SCT championship. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"I was flipping through the physical sheets before the season and I saw his name and it jumped out at me," Ocean coach John Terlecsky said. "I knew who he was, I knew the kind of player he was and I knew he was familiar with our guys from travel ball. From day one, he has fit right in. We never had to worry about getting him acclimated because he really gave us what we needed in the middle and he embraced that roll right away."

Seven of Ocean's starters were starters on last year's SCT runner-up team with current starters Gaber and senior Andrew Shaw contributing off the bench. Ocean earned a measure of redemption for last year's 7-1 championship loss to Holmdel by beating the Hornets on penalties in Monday's semifinal and completed that redemption tour by winning the same Shore Conference Tournament that ended in such horrible fashion last season.

Montesinos was one Ocean player who had no connection to last year's season and his presence proved to be the difference for the Spartans - a newcomer scoring the game-winner off an assist from a senior who came off the bench last season.

"In addition to locking down the middle and going toe-to-toe with guys like (Holmdel's) Joe Arena and (CBA's) Dom Bellomo, it's just his attitude," senior goalkeeper Max Winters said. "He plays with a lot of confidence and he is constantly working at 100 percent and it rubs off on everybody. He works harder than anybody and it's fitting that he is the guy who won it for us."

Ocean took only five shots prior to the Montesinos winner and none of them were on frame. CBA dominated possession and outshot the Spartans, 19-6, but could not conquer Winters, who saved 10 shots to earn the biggest shutout of his three-year varsity career.

"Moments like this are why we put in all the extra work, the extra running in the offseason," Winters said. "No one wants to do that stuff, but when you have a moment like this, it makes it all worth it."

The Colts best chance was a curving shot by senior Dominic Bellomo that drilled the corner of the crossbar and right post in the 64th minute. Winters also denied Bellomo on a dangerous shot in the first overtime with a diving save and earlier made a lunging stop on a first-half rip from CBA senior Jack Gill.

With Ocean conceding so much possession and so many shots, it might have been easy for the Spartans to settle in and hold down the fort long enough to earn a draw to share the title. That, however, was not the message in the Ocean huddle.

"In the last huddle before second overtime, after we just packed in and survived that first one, I was the one who said, 'I don't want a co-championship,'" Winters said. "That's not what we worked for. That's just the kind of kid I am - I am a competitor and that's the reason you play. I knew we had it in us. Our chances were few but we just had to capitalize on one."

"In the huddle, we said, 'We don't want to share it with anybody,'" Montesinos said. "We wanted to be the champs and we pulled through."

Ocean was the first team to face CBA twice in 2018 and learned a great deal from its 3-2 loss to the Colts on Sept. 29. In that game, CBA scored twice in the first 14 minutes and after Ocean rallied to tie it in the 64th, the Colts needed only three minutes to regain the lead.

"Our big concern was Joe Lozowski," Terlecsky said, speaking of CBA's senior midfielder. "We tried to keep numbers and a defensive attitude on his side of the field, which I think hurt us getting forward. I was trying to position (James) Schutz to attack their back line in the corners and that was difficult because (Lozowski) was presenting problems all night. I wanted to keep two guys in his vicinity because he was the key piece to stop."

Although the Spartans struggled to generate offense, the defense and Winters were on their game for the duration. Gaber, senior captain Zach Sintic, Elias Brandimarte and Mark Mauro contributed to the effort on the back line while Yates, Montesinos, senior James Schutz and junior Rob Lopes battled in the midfield.

Ocean was just the fifth team to hold CBA without a goal in the first half and the Colts dropped to 1-4 in such games.

"Max, like always, came up huge time and time again and our defense stepped up big again, just like they always so," Yates said. "I know there are some great teams out there, but I'll take my defense over anybody's."

Offensively, Ocean was far less dangerous on Wednesday than it was in the regular season game vs. CBA. Senior forward Santieno Harding - who had scored three goals in Ocean's last two SCT wins - got off two off-target shots while battling through double-and-triple-teams throughout the night.

"Realistically, CBA is great with the ball, great moving the ball," Montesinos said. "We knew it was going to be hard because they three guys on our striker, but we sat back, waited for those set-piece plays, looked for our opportunities and we won."

A number of Ocean's seniors were on hand as freshmen in 2015 when CBA beat the Spartans, 2-0, in the SCT finals. On Wednesday, those seniors helped Ocean hand CBA just its second ever loss in 12 SCT final appearances.

Ocean, for its part, evened its record in the championship game at 5-5 with its win. The 10 appearances in the final are second only to CBA and the five outright championships match Jackson Memorial for second all-time.

Terlecsky was a senior on Ocean's first Shore Conference Tournament championship team in 1994, when longtime head coach Tom Reilly won the first of his four conference titles at the head of the program. Terlecsky served as an assistant under Reilly and took over for his mentor last season.

"It's really full circle for me because I was a senior when this program won our first title under coach Reilly on this very same field (at Point Boro)," Terlecsky said. "It's a very surreal moment and this one is all about these kids and these seniors."

The parallels don't stop there for Ocean, whose 7-1 loss to Holmdel was not even its worst SCT championship loss. The Spartans lost to Manalapan, 8-0, in the 2000 championship game and just like they did against Holmdel this year, they beat Manalapan the following year in the semifinals before beating Colts Neck to win the championship.

"I didn't realize how much the Holmdel loss hurt them," Terlecsky said. "I always focus on bouncing back and going to the next game, but to see how much investment they put into that game to get that result affected them. They exhausted themselves emotionally to beat Holmdel the other night and we were tired tonight. So to watch them show the heart and the character to pull this one our when we were almost running on fumes was special to watch."


Box Score

Ocean 1, CBA 0

Ocean (15-3-1)00011
CBA (15-4)00000

Goals (Assists): (O) Leonardo Montesinos (Brent Gaber) 94'
Shots: CBA, 19-6
Saves: (O) Max Winters 10; (CBA) Eric Wnorowski 0

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