FREEHOLD - The Toms River East boys soccer has spent its season competing with just about every opponent on its roster but against the best competition, the Raiders have not been able to get over the hump.

Facing a man disadvantage on the road against the No. 9 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, the Raiders finally found a way to walk off winners against a marquee opponent.

Sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Testa saved three shots in the round of penalties and junior Taylor Cleven converted the winning kick to cap a roller-coaster, 6-5 win for the 22nd-seeded Raiders over No. 11 Freehold Boro on penalty kicks following a 2-2 draw.

"We have a lot of juniors and sophomores with limited experience," Toms River East coach Mike Konopka said. "Just to compete the way we have in some of our toughest games shows my boys that they belong at this level. It was just clearing that last mental hurdle to finish the game and I think playing in a lot of these games gave us the confidence to keep battling and never giving up today even though we faced a lot of challenges."

Cleven missed his first attempt of the shootout but the rotation cycled back to him on the ninth round. After Testa denied Freehold Boro's ninth shot, Cleven slipped his shot just passed the dive of Freehold Boro senior goalkeeper James Crivelli to set off the celebration.

"I missed the first one and I was so upset," Cleven said. "All the guys on my team picked me up and I went up there a nervous wreck for the second shot but I pulled through. I took my shot, I was confident when I got up to the ball and it worked out."

Crivelli also saved two shots in the shootout round and each team missed the mark once.

"We practiced them last night," Cleven said of penalty kicks. "We felt really confident taking them and we felt confident in Testa saving them. We definitely embraced it."

Toms River East played the final 55 minutes with 10 men on the field because of an intentional handball in the box that prevented a shot by senior Jose Velasquez-Olivera from going into the goal. Junior Mike Romero-Vargas converted the ensuing penalty kick to tie the game at 2-2.

The Raiders absorbed heavy pressure for the first 25 minutes of the first half before settling in and playing the Colonials even for the final 35. In the shootout round, Romero-Vargas attempted two more shots and Testa got a hand on both. The first shot continued into the goal but the second was one of Testa's three saves.

"I tell our guys all the time: nothing is ever going to go completely right," Konopka said. "Part of being a varsity athlete is learning to handle yourself when things aren't going right or something happens that you weren't expecting. You can practice something 1,000 times and then something happens in the game and you have to adjust to something totally different."

Freehold Boro played without leading scorer Isaac Ball, who was issued his fourth yellow card of the season in Freehold Boro's previous game, which results in a one-game suspension per a new Shore Conference rule implemented this year.

Despite missing their leading scorer, the Colonials jumped on top on a goal by senior Chris Cruz-Martinez in the ninth minute.

Toms River East equalized two minutes later when junior T.J. Scollan one-timed a cross from classmate Alex Heid out of the air and into the goal. Just three minutes after Scollan's goal, senior Dane Bodziak ran down a punt by Testa and headed it past Crivelli for a 2-1 Raiders lead.

"Every team's mentality when they concede is 'We've got to get one back,'" Cleven said. "We got that back really quickly and we were excited. Then we got another goal and all of a sudden, we're up 2-1. We were pumped. Then we get the red card and give up the penalty and it's 2-2 and we didn't know what to do. We settled down, our coach told us what to do, and we found a way to pull through. It was a valiant team effort."

Toms River East will take on the winner of Tuesday's game between No. 27 St. Rose and No. 6 Christian Brothers Academy.

It will be another chance to show that despite some early shortcomings, the Raiders and their junior-heavy squad have the ability and the toughness to beat one of the Shore's best. Three of Toms River East's four losses are on late scores in one-goal losses to Toms River South, Jackson Memorial and Marlboro.

Against Marlboro - the No. 2 seed in this tournament - the Raiders conceded the winning goal with four seconds left in regulation.

"If we don't have that toughness and that grittiness, we're not going to compete in games like this," Konopka said. "If we play with that toughness for 80 minutes, we're good enough to play with anybody and that's the way we're going to try to approach every game from here on out."

 

Box Score

Toms River East 2, Freehold Boro 2

Toms River East advances on penalties, 6-5

12OTOTFPK
TR East (4-4-3)200026
Freehold (7-6-1, 7-6-1)110025

Goals (Assists): (TRE) T.J. Scollan (Alex Heid) 11', Dane Bodziak (Ryan Testa) 14'; (FB) Chris Cruz-Martinez 9', Mike Romero-Vargas (PK) 46'
Shots: Freehold Boro, 20-12
Saves: (TRE) Ryan Testa 8; (FB) James Crivelli 6
Penalty Kicks: (TRE) Kajus Matazinskas 2, Alex Heid 2, Mike Conklin, Taylor Cleven; (FB) Noah Brower 2, Phil Franco 2, Mike Romero-Vargas