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MIDDLETOWN - Zach Orrico has demonstrated a knack for scoring in big moments of big games and in 2020, every game is big for a Freehold Township boys soccer team trying to follow up a Shore Conference Tournament championship season in 2019 with something even better.

With Freehold Township - the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 - on the brink of falling to unranked Middletown North, Orrico came up clutch again.

The reigning Shore Sports Network Player of the Year scored the tying goal with 1:12 left in regulation, then converted the golden goal 38 seconds into the second overtime to rally the Patriots to a 3-2 win over the upset-minded Lions.

"The x-factor in a game like that is good teams finding a way to win," Freehold Township coach Josh Mehl said. "Zach is dangerous in any split-second and he is the motor that runs the ship. The second we scored the equalizer, I was pretty sure they were going to find a way to get it done in overtime."

"I was nervous because the last couple years, we have lost games early in the year we thought we shouldn't have," Orrico said. "It felt like that was going to happen today but luckily, we found that goal and we had the momentum going into extra time."

It took a 73rd-minute goal by senior Josh Leonetti for Freehold Township to beat Middletown North, 1-0, on Thursday and the Lions put themselves in position to pay the Patriots back on Saturday on their home turf.

"They played really hard both games and we had to dig deep to win both," Orrico said. "They're known for good starts and they were definitely ready to play us. Today was a dogfight the whole day."

Junior Christian Mojares staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead by chipping Middletown North goalkeeper Alex Bogues in the 13th minute, but the goal served to wake up the Lions attack.

Senior Denzel Boateng elevated for a header that found the back of the net in the 19th minute, with senior J.T. Meredith setting him up on his corner kick service. In the 35th, Senior Tommy Long's initial shot on goal was denied by Freehold Township keeper John Wilhelm, but sophomore Michael Colantino followed up the denial with a successful finish and a 2-1 Middletown North lead.

The score remained 2-1 for more than 44 minutes before Orrico struck. Senior Shane O'Malley tracked the ball to the left corner, beat a defender and zipped a cross in the air toward the front of the goal.

Orrico, positioned himself at the near post and one-timed it past Bogues and inside the near bar for the 79th-minute equalizer.

"I realized Shane was beating his man down the line but every time we would get a cross in, their goalie was just there," Orrico said. "I knew I needed to make a near-post run to kind of take the goalie out of the equation because he is long, he is big and he was covering a lot of ground in there."

Freehold Township controlled the ball throughout the first 10 minutes of overtime and within the first minute of the second overtime period, their persistence paid off. Senior Joe Lardaro won the ball near midfield and shifted it up to senior Adam Havens, who slipped a pass through to Orrico.

Orrico tracked the ball down and slid it past Bogues and into the far left corner on the first touch. The assist was also the second of the game for Havens, who set up Mojares's first-half goal.

"I saw the center back commit and the outside back was still hanging with the right (midfielder), then I saw the lane open up," Orrico said. "I'm not big on calling for the ball but I knew there that that was the game if he got me the ball. (Havens) executed a perfect pass and it was just one-touch and in."

Orrico starred during Freehold Township's run to the Shore Conference Tournament title, scoring five goals and two assists during the march to the championship - including two goals in the championship game vs. Manasquan. The senior forward also scored his team's lone goal in a first-round loss to Long Branch in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV Playoffs, giving him six of his 17 goals on the season during postseason play.

"In all the years I have coached, I have never coached a player like (Zach)," Mehl said. "There is nobody who rates to his competitiveness and his drive."

With an NJSIAA Tournament scheduled for November, but not guarantee that the entirety of the schedule will be played in 2020, Orrico and his teammates don't want to save their best for later in the season.

"The coaches are on us everyday to play with that urgency because we know any day could be our last day," Orrico said. "I'm sure other coaches are telling their players that too so everyone is just coming out so hard every game because you just never know when it's going to end."


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