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BARNEGAT -- Tiarnan King waited three full seasons,16 games, 68 minutes and 23 seconds to score his first varsity goal and it was a goal that could very well go down as the most important goal of the 2021 Christian Brothers Academy boys soccer season.

With Tuesday night's Shore Conference Tournament semifinal vs. fourth-seeded Manalapan scoreless in the 69th minute and the underdog gaining confidence as the game clock shed each minute of regulation, King delivered the knockout punch: a 25-yard missile from outside the top of the 18-yard box that drilled the left post, settled into the goal and gave top-seeded CBA a 1-0 win over its Shore Conference Class A North division rival.

"It's something that I have really wanted to accomplish," King said of scoring in a varsity match. "I have had a couple chances this year so it feels good to see it come through, especially on a day like this in the semifinals. It's a great feeling."

King's goal sends the Colts to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game for the 13th time in program history and for the fourth time since 2015. CBA (16-1) will collide with No. 3 Toms River North in Thursday's final at Barnegat -- a rematch of an anticipated regular-season meeting won by CBA, 4-2, on Oct. 2 in Lincroft.

For most of Tuesday night's game between the Colts and Braves, a CBA goal seemed to be only a matter of time, but the longer the Braves kept the Colts off the board, the more likely the possibility of a colossal upset.

Manalapan (8-4-5) lost the regular-season meeting between the division rivals, 4-1, in Manalapan but last season, the Braves earned a 0-0 draw at CBA, even amid a 0-10-1 season. On Tuesday, Manalapan committed its energy to the defensive end, playing with 10 players behind the ball whenever possible, conceding possession to CBA and looking to counter-attack when possible.

The Manalapan game-plan also put the game into the hands of its sophomore goalkeeper, Matteo Paolillo. CBA enjoyed a 20-1 advantage in shots and a 10-0 advantage in shots on goal and Paolillo nearly neutralized that disparity by making nine saves.

"I feel like we dominated that second half, so it was good to see it finally pay off," King said. "(Dylan) Cupo had two chances in the first half that just missed. We were just unlucky so it felt good to get that break there.

"That's just the nature of the tournament. A lot of teams, there is just a different aspect about them than in the regular season. We just keep plugging away in games like this and sometimes, you've just got to have that luck come through."

In the first half, Manalapan narrowly avoided two CBA goals by Colts leading scorer Dylan Cupo, who entered the game with 17 goals. Cupo wiggled free for a clean 10-yard shot directly in front of the goal in the 23rd minute and scorched a shot directly off the crossbar that several Colts contested crossed the end-line for a would-be goal.

Three minutes later, Cupo created space on the left side of the box and bent a left-footed shot toward the far left post. Paolillo barely got a piece of the shot and the ball clanged off the left post and a follow-up shot by Thygeson skipped wide of the right post to narrowly let Manalapan off the hook.

"They are a really well-coached team and they have now played us close in low-scoring games back-to-back years," Thygeson said. "Dylan Cupo is our best scorer and they had a great gameplan for him. They defended us really well. We knew it was going to be a tight game, we knew we were going to face adversity, but we knew if we stuck to our gameplan that our coaches have been telling us all year, that somebody would come through and Tiarnan did a great job of being that guy today."

Manalapan's defense continued to clog shooting lanes and funnel the game to Paolillo, who kept coming up with saves through the game's deciding moment in the 69th minute. Thygeson and classmate Jack D'Eletto routinely beat the Manalapan defense up the wings, but the Braves consistently closed off the middle of the 18-yard box when the two attackers either turned the corner or centered the ball.

CBA finally came up with an answer with just under 12 minutes to play. Thygeson again made a run with the ball up the left side, but instead of carrying it all the way to the end-line, he cut it back near the top of the 18-yard box extended out to the sideline.

"Coach has been telling me to try to play (the ball) earlier all year and on that play, you can see why," Thygeson said. "I picked my head up earlier and found Tiarnan and he had one of the best shots I have seen all season. It just goes to show you what happens when you listen to your coaches."

Thygeson played a square ball toward the middle of the field and King stepped in to claim it, took a touch and blasted a shot off the left bar, behind a diving Paolillo and into the goal.

"I took a look up at the goalie and saw he was positioned a little bit toward the wide part of the goal, so I just let it rip," King said. "The curve favored me and it hit off the post.

"Due to the fact that they had a lot of guys behind the ball, I would say his vision was definitely blocked on a lot of the shots outside the box. We were just pressing him from close range and he just always seemed to be in the right position."

Manalapan pushed more numbers forward over the final 11 minutes but could not do more than play dangerous long balls into the box, where CBA sophomore goalkeeper Joe Grossman and senior center backs Declan Kelly and Jack McGagh defended the air.

Senior Ryan Hayes handled the first half of CBA's shutout in goal, facing the only Manalapan shot of the game, which was a quality look that sailed wide of the left post.

With a 9-2-1 all-time record in the Shore Conference Tournament championship round, CBA has won more SCT championships than any other program and will go for its 11th overall title and 10th outright crown against Toms River North on Thursday in Barnegat, with kickoff set for 6:30 p.m.

Since winning their last championship in 2016, the Colts have been close to winning more titles but have not been able to cross the finish line. They lost on a golden goal in the 2018 final against Ocean, lost to Manasquan on penalties in the 2019 semifinals and missed out on a chance to win in 2020 when the SCT was canceled during a truncated season.

With many of the current contributors on hand, CBA went 13-0-1 in 2020 and finished the season No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. Now, key returners from that team like Cupo, Thygeson, D'Eletto, Kelly, Jake Homowitz, Marco Mastriani and McGagh are looking to complete that unfinished goal.

As Tuesday night proved, it can't be done without some help from some unexpected sources.

"We are really excited," Thygeson said. "There is nothing like playing in a championship game and I think that we have some great senior leadership in Declan and Dylan who have played in championship games and they will be able to guide us. It's just another soccer game, Toms River North is a great team, so we know it's going to be a tough contest."

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