MANAHAWKIN - Several missed opportunities and a defensive miscue forced the Southern Regional boys soccer team to have to decide its fate in Tuesday's Shore Conference Tournament round-of-16 game on penalty kicks and while that prospect might seem frustrating to most teams in the same predicament, the Rams, to a man, welcomed the challenge.

After failing to put Howell away in a 1-1 draw during 100 minutes of play, Southern topped the Rebels on penalties, 4-2, behind two saves by senior goalkeeper Braden Dugan and conversions on all four shot attempts.

"When we got our five guys together before the shootout, they just looked at me stone-faced and said, 'Yeah, coach. We're ready to go.'" Southern coach Guy Lockwood said. "That was fantastic."

Southern posted a 14-9 advantage in shots, scored first and got its top goal-scorer, sophomore Kevin Kiernan, a wide-open chance in front of the goal in the 74th minute. Despite those opportunities falling by the wayside, the Rams were eager to test their meddle on penalties, particularly Dugan.

Southern senior Dylan Blauvelt. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Southern senior Dylan Blauvelt. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We were confident - 100 percent," Dugan said. "We practiced shootouts last night, actually. We were very confident."

Dugan saved Howell's second and third attempts of the shootout, pushing an attempt by Rob Saunders wide with a diving save to his left and holding in the middle to stop a shot by Nick Panarisi.

"Left is my strong side, so I went with that first," Duggan said. "I figured after the first two, I should stop going left so I decided to stay in the middle and I saved the third (penalty kick). After that, I knew my team had it."

Junior Ben Hanneman, senior Frank Ritchie and Kiernan each converted their kicks on Southern's first three attempts. The Rams celebrated after Kiernan's goal, believing it to be the clinching. While they were mistaken about the score of the shootout, they knew the outcome.

After junior Nick Cavellero kept Howell alive by converting his attempt, sophomore Nico Leonard ended the game with shot right down the middle of the goal.

After controlling the ball for most of the first half and the first part of regulation, Southern broke a scoreless tie when senior Dylan Blauvelt took a pass from Kevin Kiernan and slipped a shot past charging senior goalkeeper Shane McBride. Howell junior defender Joe Brenner tried to save it off the end-line but his last-second slide came after the ball had reached the line and slotted it into the side netting for good measure.

Howell got its first big chance to tie the game in the 60th when senior Dylan Dougher broke behind the defense but couldn't track down the ball in time to get a shot off. Less than two minutes later, a through-ball from senior Rob Saunders made it to the feet of junior Jared Rubman, who buried a wide-open chance into the far left corner from six yards out.

"There were multiple changes just before their goal too," Lockwood said. "Part of it was an earlier infraction for a yellow card, part of it was our center back (Connor Feeney) being injured, so we were moving parts around and that probably led to a lack of communication."

"It looked like a lost mark," Dugan said of the Howell goal. "Other than that, I thought we were solid. I never felt like we lost control of the game."

Junior Mike Anello ripped three shots on goal during the final minutes of the second half and overtime to give Howell a shot to win it, but Dugan denied him each time.

Tuesday's game was a rematch of a regular-season game at Howell on Oct. 1, which the Rebels won, 2-0. That was the fifth game of a five-game winless streak for Southern and the Rams have not lost since.

"We sat back guys," Lockwood said of his team's approach. "It wasn't that we didn't attack, we sat our guys a little bit deeper. It was going to be very difficult to play balls over our head, because that's where we got into a bad situation against them last time."

Tuesday's win means Southern could be due for a trip to play top-seeded Holmdel if the Hornets can survive a test from No. 16 Toms River East on Wednesday. Even though a Toms River East win would mean Southern gets to host the SCT quarterfinal on Friday, the Rams are already looking forward to taking the trip north.

"We want them," Dugan said. "We have been talking about this since we first saw the bracket. We played them in the preseason and they (the officials) called the game because of heat after it was 0-0 at half. They are the best team, one of the best in the state and we want to prove we can play with anybody."


Box Score

Southern 1, Howell 1 (Southern advances on penalties, 4-2)

Howell (10-5-1)010012
Southern (8-4-2)010014

Goals (Assists): (H) Jared Rubman (Rob Saunders) 62'; (S) Dylan Blauvelt (Kevin Kiernan) 47'
Shots: Southern, 14-9
Saves: (H) Shane McBride 6; (S) Braden Dugan 5
Penalty Kicks: (H) Dylan Dougher, Nick Cavellero; (S) Ben Hanneman, Frank Ritchie, Kevin Kiernan, Nico Leonard


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