MARLBORO TWP. - More than a week after Jack Ringel passed away, his son, P.J., can still feel his father watching him, although judging by the way Marlboro has won its three NJSIAA Tournament games, it appears P.J. Ringel’s father isn’t so much watching the games as much as he is intervening in them.

Monday against Manalapan in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinal, for the second time in three state tournament games, Ringel scored the golden goal in overtime to give Marlboro a 1-0 win and earn the Mustangs a spot in a sectional final for the first time in 12 years.

The 20-yard, right-footed volley to the far right corner of the goal six minutes into overtime Monday was just the latest in Ringel’s season-long list of heroics, which have taken on a whole new meaning since the morning of Oct. 30.

“It’s never going to be the same as it was,” Ringel said. “But I can go into games now and know I can play my game and he’s up there watching me. He’s behind me and pushing me in everything I do. The first game (after his father’s death) was bad, but I’m more focused now that I’ve had some time to process everything.”

Ringel’s goal Monday was his 21st of the season and the 29th of his career, which ranks second in the history of the program.

“Regardless of what’s happened to him personally, he’s a special kid,” Santos said of Ringel. “He’s put us on his back in a lot of games this year and it’s carried over to the postseason.”

Before his game-winner in the sixth minute of overtime, Ringel struggled to shake free of Manalapan's defense, which held Marlboro without a shot in the first half and spearheaded an opening 40 minutes in which the Braves controlled play. They attempted four shots, but none of them were on target - the closest being a 25-yard rip by senior Rocky Garretson that cleared the upper right corner of the frame by less than a foot.

Marlboro asserted itself as the game wore on, with Ringel getting his first chance in the 63rd minute on a 10-yard one-time shot he popped over the crossbar.

Senior Brett Easton followed with the best chance on goal for either team during regulation when he ran onto a through ball and punched a shot from the right side of the box on frame, but was denied by Manalapan goalkeeper Josh Koenig.

Prior to Easton's shot, senior Ryan LaRocca also missed a shot from the six-yard line off a cross from Ringel.

After some early pressure in overtime, Marlboro finally cashed in the winner. Sophomore Jaden Strumeier played the ball up and after Manalapan defender Cameron Saunders chested the first ball down, senior Jared Markowitz flicked it over a defender in Ringel's direction. Ringel used teammate Brian Dates as a screen and ripped a one-time volley with the outside of his right foot and sliced into into the far side netting from beyond the top of the 18-yard box to end the game.

Manalapan entered the game as a No. 15 seed in the Central Jersey Group IV bracket, but their storybook run in the state playoffs ran into an even more dramatic story. More than a week removed from the passing of Ringel's father, the Mustangs sported warm-up shirts with Ringel’s No. 13 on the back and the initials “J. Ringel” to honor the late basketball coach.

“(The support from friends) has kind of filled a hole that I noticed when my dad first passed away,” Ringel said. “These guys (the Marlboro players) are always with me. I’ve got my basketball friends. I’ve got my close friends outside of sports helping me to be the best person I can be.”

P.J. Ringel dons a warm-up shirt with his late father Jack's first initial and last name. (Photo by Matt Manley)
P.J. Ringel dons a warm-up shirt with his late father Jack's first initial and last name. (Photo by Matt Manley)

According to Santos, many of his players have been battling through nagging injuries as a result of a packed schedule. Marlboro reached the Shore Conference Tournament championship on Oct. 29 and began its state tournament run two days later. Ringel, for his part, is battling discomfort in his back, which he said he first felt in the SCT semifinals against Freehold Township on Oct. 27.

“I didn’t even notice it in the first state game,” Ringel said of his back. “I’ve been feeling it a little more each game, so I’ll just have to rest up and get ready to play (in the final).”

Marlboro also won its sectional quarterfinal game against North Brunswick on Nov. 3 on an overtime golden goal. Ringel decided to play in that game as well and was held without a goal, but junior Zach Scarpa picked up his senior teammate by scoring the overtime winner to help Marlboro advance.

The Mustangs will now head to play top-seeded Hunterdon Central in Thursday's Central Jersey Group IV championship game - the program's first trip to a sectional final since losing to Rancocas Valley in 2004. That trip was the second of two championship appearances in three years for the Mustangs, who have never won a sectional championship.

After setting a new school record for wins in a season Monday and clearing the sectional final hurdle for the first time in more than a decade, some normalcy is setting back in for a team that has been anything but normal this season - and certainly during its state tournament run.

“Last Monday was my most difficult day as a coach in 27 years of coaching soccer,” Santos said. “The heavy heart and the somber attitude made it really hard to try to focus on playing a game. Thursday was a little better and (Monday) I felt a lot better about the team’s mood.”


Box Score

Marlboro 1, Manalapan 0 (OT)

Manalapan (11-9-2)0000
Marlboro (20-2-1)0011

Goal (Assist): (MAR) P.J. Ringel (Brian Dates) 86'
Shots: Marlboro, 7-5
Saves: (MAR) James Weinberg 1; (MAN) Josh Koenig 2


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