HOLMDEL - The NJSIAA Tournament offers a new beginning for any team good enough and fortunate enough to qualify for it and few teams in the state embraced the chance to bury a rough start with a strong finish as fervently as the St. Rose boys soccer team did.

The Purple Roses entered the NJSIAA Tournament 6-10-2 after a regular season marred by injuries and head-scratching results but when the tournament started, they were a new team.

In Thursday's South Jersey, Non-Public B championship game - which St. Rose reached as the No. 9 seed behind three straight wins on the road - the Purple Roses again needed a strong finish, but could not reset the scoreboard after a slow start.

St. Rose players walk off the field after a 2-1 loss to Rutgers Prep. (Photo by Matt Manley)
St. Rose players walk off the field after a 2-1 loss to Rutgers Prep. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Two early goals by third-seeded Rutgers Prep were too much to overcome, even for a St. Rose side tat dominated play in the second half, and the Argonauts held on for a 2-1 win at Holmdel High School for the program's first ever sectional championship.

Rutgers Prep will play Gill St. Bernard in Sunday's Non-Public B championship game at Kean University at 12:30 p.m.

"Once we got the first one, I thought we would tie it," St. Rose coach Brian Pringle said. "They were having trouble with the extra man up top (in the St. Rose formation). The chances were there, it just didn’t go in."

Senior Jonathon Caputo's goal in the 68th minute highlighted St. Rose's furious comeback attempt, which saw the Purple Roses outshoot Rutgers Prep 11-0 during the second half after ceding a 5-4 edge to the Argonauts during the first 40 minutes.

St. Rose's second-half dominance finally turned into a Purple Roses goal in the 68th and it started with a 30-yard shot by senior Evan Walters. Rutgers Prep keeper Oscar Vargas saved the shot but the ball hit the ground and senior Matt Forlenza got off a follow up attempt. The shot deflected off Vargas and Caputo pounced on the bouncing ball and tapped it in to set up a dramatic finish for a rejuvenated St. Rose side and a Rutgers Prep team desperately clawing to hold on.

Caputo later got behind the defense twice in the final 10 minutes but could not get the first attempt away cleanly and fired the second one over the crossbar. Rutgers Prep nearly put the game on ice with three minutes left but an easy scoring chance on an open net was negated by an offsides call.

Demetri Zambas scored both Rutgers Prep goals off assists from Griffin Hooper, with the second coming exactly 10 minutes after the first. Zambas volleyed in a shot off Hooper's corner kick in the fifth minute and headed in a right-to-left cross from Hooper in the 15th to plant the Roses in a two-goal hole.

It took a pair of crucial saves by St. Rose goalkeeper Nick Forlano following the first two Rutgers Prep goals to keep the deficit at 2-0 before the rest of the team could organize a threat and turn the tide in the second half.

Rutgers Prep actually owned a 5-2 advantage in shots at one point, so St. Rose finished the game with 13 unanswered shot attempts over the final 48 minutes.

"We came out flat for the first 15 to 20 minutes and gave up two soft goals," Pringle said. "The boys fought hard to get back in it but I think if we played the first 20 like we did the last 20 or the last 40, it probably would have been a different outcome."

Caputo's valiant effort down the stretch Thursday was a fitting finish to his career, which required him to fight just to get on the field for one final postseason run. The senior midfielder missed most of both his junior and senior seasons due to injury, including 16 games during this season. He was injured in the second game of the season - a 4-2 loss to Wall - and did not return until the opening round of the state tournament.

"He gives 150 percent all the time," Pringle said of Caputo. "He worked so hard to get back on the field and he gave us everything he could. Those chances he had at the end, nine times out of ten, they are in the back of the net. They just didn't go in tonight."

Caputo's presence proved to be a critical ingredient to St. Rose righting the ship in the postseason. The Purple Roses needed wins over Keyport and Henry Hudson to get into the Shore Conference Tournament and then lost four straight to fall to 6-10-2 before the start of the state tournament.

The losses, however, were secondary to getting healthy and Pringle knew with a full squad, his team could do damage in the Non-Public B bracket. The Purple Roses started with a 3-0 victory over Trenton Catholic, followed that up with a 1-0 win over top-seeded Immaculata and earned a spot in the final with a resounding 5-1 win over defending South Non-Public B champion Moorestown Friends in the sectional semifinals.

"Our focus in the games leading up to the tournament was to get guys healthy and just worry about getting ready for the state tournament," Pringle said. "I really thought if we could make it to that first game with a full lineup, we could make a run and that's exactly what happened."

Fifteen minutes doomed the Purple Roses' surprise run but the final 50 revealed one more look at a senior-led team that did not want its season to end without a fight.

"This stings right now because we have so many seniors," Pringle said. "This is a bitter taste they have in their mouth right now – to get this close and have chances, only to come up a little short gives you kind of a sinking feeling for them. Fortunately, we have a good freshman group and we brought a few of them here to get a taste of this. Hopefully, they will remember what it was like and we'll be back."


Box Score

Rutgers Prep 2, St. Rose 1

St. Rose (9-11-2)011
Rutgers Prep (12-10)202

Goals (Assists): (SR) Jonathon Caputo (Matt Forlenza) 68'; (RP) Demetri Zamabas (Griffin Hooper) 5', Demetri Zambas (Griffin Hooper) 15'
Shots: St. Rose, 15-5
Saves: (SR) Nick Forlano 2; (RP) Oscar Vargas 6


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