Clutch Penalty Kill Helps Ocean Rally Past Middletown South
OCEAN TOWNSHIP – Trailing by two goals early in the third quarter and with its best defender confined to the penalty box for two minutes, Ocean’s game against Middletown South was perilously close to getting out of reach.
Instead of giving ground, however, the Spartans grabbed the momentum with a clutch penalty kill, then scored the game’s next four goals to earn an 8-7 Shore Conference nondivisional win over the Eagles on Wednesday morning at Carelli Field.
Junior attackman Holden Lowe, sophomore midfielder Brian Fisher and freshman midfielder Dale Alto each scored twice, junior midfielder Mike Nies and senior defenseman Richie Bianchi each scored one and freshman goalie Garrett Schwab made six saves to help Ocean (2-1) bounce back from a loss to Toms River East last week.
Connor Ard scored three times for Middletown South while Dan Rossi, Jason Allen, Matt Tardy and Carter Lenhard each scored once. Shane Murphy was solid in goal with eight saves.
Middletown South led 2-0 after the first quarter and 4-2 at halftime, and when Ard completed his hat trick 85 seconds into the third quarter it looked like the Eagles (3-1) were going to begin to pull away. Alto answered 25 seconds later to make it 5-3 but just over a minute later Bianchi was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty and assessed a two-minute, non-releasable penalty. Ocean was able to kill off the penalty and also stymie Middletown South on another man-up later in the quarter to fuel the comeback.
“It was a huge turning point,” said Ocean head coach Warren Towns. “Anytime you’re a man down and you can stop the other team from scoring it’s a feather in your cap. It doesn’t necessarily determine the game but it gives you a little momentum.”
“And taking Richie off the field is enormous because he’s class one. It’s a luxury to have him on the field. But if we just play our system – slide early and try to make them beat us to the back side with whoever is out there – then we’re ok.”
Following the successful penalty kill it was Bianchi gaining possession in the Ocean end, racing across midfield and firing a bouncing shot past Murphy to pull the Spartans to within 5-4. Just 19 seconds later Lowe cut in front and whipped a left-handed shot into the back of the net to tie the score at five.
At 7:59 of the fourth quarter Lowe moved from X, drew the defenders his way and found a wide-open Fisher for an easy goal that gave Ocean it’s first lead of the game, 6-5. With 4:31 to play Nies beat his man out of the alley, dodged another defender near the goal and bounced a shot past Murphy for Ocean’s fifth straight goal that opened a 7-5 lead.
Ocean looked poised to emerge victoriously, but it didn’t come easy. Tardy scored off a rebound with 23.5 seconds left in the game to make it 7-6. Middletown South won the ensuing face-off but Ocean FOGO Josh Thurman was able to pick up the ground ball and find Fisher, who scored to make it 8-6 with 15 seconds left. Ocean was called for a penalty with 7.2 seconds left and Carter Lenhard scored directly after the restart to make it 8-7 with two seconds, but Bianchi was able to prevent Middletown South from getting a clean face-off win to secure the victory.
“It was definitely a game of ebbs and flows today, no doubt,” Towns said. “We had a little and they had a little, and I thought in the second half we had just a little bit more.”
Ocean is a young team with only one starting senior – the Monmouth University-bound Bianchi – and just three players with previous varsity experience. There will be growing pains, but Towns is excited about what the present and future holds for his promising group.
“We have Richie, Holden and Mike Nies and the rest are brand new,” Towns said. “We have six freshmen that are on the field sometimes, but that’s great. They’re learning. I feel like we’re in a really good place.”
Ocean 8, Middletown South 7
Middletown South (3-1) 2 2 1 2 – 7
Ocean (2-1) 0 2 3 3 – 8
GOALS – MS: Connor Ard 3, Dan Rossi, Jason Allen, Matt Tardy, Carter Lenhard; O: Holden Lowe 2, Brian Fisher 2, Dale Alto 2, Richie Bianchi, Mike Nies.
ASSISTS – MS: Chris Lucyk; O: Lowe, Fisher, Thurman.
SAVES – MS: Shane Murphy 8; O: Garrett Schwab 6.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.