Boys Soccer – St. Rose Beats Familiar Foe to Kick Off Championship Chase
WALL TWP. -- One year removed from making it all the way to a round of penalty kicks in the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game, the St. Rose boys soccer team has grander visions than just winning one game in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B bracket.
Tuesday's quarterfinal match at home, however, had the full attention of the Purple Roses players -- even beyond fulfilling the cliché of "one game at a time."
Facing a Ranney team that ended a promising state tournament run by St. Rose two years ago and has played the Purple Roses tough in Shore Conference Class B Central divisional play over the years, third-seeded St. Rose made a statement by routing the No. 6 Panthers, 5-0, to advance to the sectional semifinals.
"My sophomore year, we had a star-studded team and we lost to Ranney," St. Rose senior Matt Alexis said. "We were the higher seed, predicted to win, all of that, so losing to them and having our season upset in the semifinals really propelled us to go on and win the section last year.
"Most of the guys here were on that 2021 team and that is still lighting a fire for us. Now, it's just about fighting to get back there and try to win it all."
"We're getting into that mentality of 'next game, next training session,'" St. Rose coach Simon Muckle said. "Anything extra now is a gift. In the regular season, no matter what happens, you've got that training session the next day. Now, it's win or go home. There is that expectation to win, but we also know what it takes because we have done it before."
St. Rose snapped out of a 35-minute scoreless spell to start the game with two goals in the last five minutes of the half. Alexis assisted the first goal by classmate Diego Nieves, then scored one of his own during the five-minute surge that closed the first half.
In the 35th minute, with Ranney looking to counter out of its own end, Alexis won a header 35 yards from the Ranney goal and set Nieves up for a run at the goal once he changed course in the direction of the Ranney goal. Nieves chipped a shot over charging Ranney goalkeeper Joe Celler to break open the scoring.
"They usually try to park the bus when we play them," Alexis said. "That can be frustrating for us, but we have gotten used to seeing it and I think we have learned that we have to just trust each other. I thought we did a great job today of just trusting the plan, trusting each other and staying positive, knowing the goals were going to come if we just kept at it."
A little under two minutes later, Alexis headed in a near-post service from senior Carlos Ramos on a free kick to give St. Rose a 2-0 lead heading into halftime.
"The two goals went pretty much how we scripted them," Muckle said. "They were playing this line that we wanted to get in behind and the second goal was just a textbook training-ground routine. Front post cross, bang, header.
"At the time when we scored the two goals, it is pretty devastating for a team, especially when they have held out for that long. It was just a case of sticking to our plan and then the third goal was the backbreaker."
Senior Andrew Restiano starred in the second half, scoring two goals and assisting a third before the final horn sounded. Restiano broke the game open when he took a pass from Ramos, sidestepped a pair of defenders, and rifled a 16-yard shot inside the near upper 90 in the 47th minute.
"He saved his best game of the season for today," Muckle said of Restiano.
Restiano added a second goal in the 72nd minute and set up the closing goal by Vladik Aguirre in the 76th.
With mostly seniors in St. Rose's starting lineup, the majority of the Purple Roses players recall either witnessing first-hand or participating in a 1-0 loss to Ranney in the 2021 South Non-Public B semifinal round. Ranney overcame a shot disadvantage and scored the winning goal in the final minutes to advance to the sectional final for the first time ever while extending St. Rose's drought to 11 straight seasons without a sectional championship.
"I thought (Ranney) were going to sit back and be deep," Muckle said. "Two years ago, when they hit us with Charles (Anyichie), I thought that's how the game was going to be because it always gives us problems. But they gave us a little less time in the middle. They were aggressive, they pressed us and credit to our boys for just going out and playing and finding solutions to problems."
Last season, St. Rose ended that 12-year drought by winning the South Jersey Non-Public B title and taking Gill St. Bernard to a penalty shootout before losing on kicks after a scoreless draw.
That run to the championship game did not include a win over Ranney, so while the Purple Roses are eager at another shot at a sectional championship, they also relished a chance to start this year's run vs. Ranney two years after the heartbreaking sectional semifinal loss.
St. Rose will continue its push for a second straight sectional championship Friday against No. 10 seed Princeton Day -- a team that entered the tournament with a 1-15-1 record and has already won twice as many games in tournament play. St. Rose beat Princeton Day, 4-3, in last year's sectional quarterfinals.
"Heading into that Gill game last year, we were all nervous," Nieves said. "They were a really good team, they had back-to-back-to-back state championships and a couple Division I kids. I think we really learned from that experience and our team came together and now, we're ready for anything."