FARMINGDALE – Brendan Doel got Freehold Township going with an offensive surge over the first 12 minutes, and from there Aidan Purcell and the Patriots defense shut the door on an important early-season division victory.

Doel tallied a game-high five points with three goals and two assists and Purcell backstopped a stellar defensive effort with eight saves to lead Freehold Township, ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 5-1 Class A North win over No. 8 Howell on Saturday morning.

Doel scored all three of his goals in the first quarter when the Patriots grabbed a 4-1 lead for all the offense they would need. Purcell wasn’t tested much through the first three quarters but made five saves over the final 12 minutes when Howell ramped up its offensive pressure. It all added up to a successful divisional opener against a fellow top-10 team in the Shore.

“Offensively we’re a young team that’s still developing, but the defense has really come together the first three games of the season,” said Freehold Township head coach Ryan Eichner. “They’re communicating well, moving very quickly and it’s been really nice team defense. They’re playing well as individuals but also playing as a team.”

Keith Hallbauer put Howell on top, 1-0, when he scored just 54 seconds into the game, but the Patriots would tie the score at the 7:45 mark when Novella found Doel in transition off a Howell turnover. From there it was all Freehold Township.

Billy Sebor scored off a feed from Doel 45 seconds later for the go-ahead tally that would end up standing as the game-winner. At 4:13 Doel grabbed a rebound a fired it past Howell goalie Nick Roberto to make it 3-1. Less than a minute later Doel curled around the cage and whipped a shot past Roberto for a 4-1 lead.

“We just ran our offense and it opened up,” Doel said.

Freehold Township graduated four of its top five leading scorers from last year, leaving senior attackman Chris Novella as the team’s top offensive threat entering the season. Doel has begun to emerge as a standout with four goals and five assists in three games and already has good chemistry with linemates Novella and Graybush.

“We did graduate some good players but we have some younger players – who are inexperienced – but there’s a lot of talent there,” Eichner said. “They just need to play a little more. Our preseason was so short and unique being in a gym so much that it’s going to take some time, but our offense played a lot better today than they did last game.”

There was no scoring in both the second and third quarters but Freehold Township remained in control by outshooting the Rebels, 14-5. Roberto kept Howell in the game by stopping all five shots on goal during the third.

Freehold Township extended its lead to 5-1 at 7:58 of the fourth quarter when Graybush cut to the crease, took a pass from Doel and beat Roberto with a quick shot.

“I dodged to the right and I saw the kid from the crease sliding to me,” Doel said. “Graybush was cutting wide-open so I just hit him with the easy pass.”

Trailing by four goals, Howell opened up its previously-deliberate offense and began peppering the cage with shots. Purcell was there each time, however, with five saves to keep the Rebels from trimming their deficit.

“I thought we really stepped up and so far, we’ve been great on defense and really talked everything through,” Purcell said. “(The defense) gave me easy shots and I just had to make the saves. (Howell) wasn’t pounding me on the crease or making me make hard saves. The defense made my job really easy today.”

So far, so good for Freehold Township, and a win over rival Howell is always welcome. But the Patriots know they’re biggest games are still to be played.

“This is a process and it’s still early in the season,” Eichner said “Our goal is to be playing our best lacrosse in May.”


Box Score

No. 6 Freehold Township 5, No. 8 Howell 1

Freehold Township (3-0, 1-0) 4 0 0 1 – 5

Howell (2-2, 0-1)                    1 0 0 0 – 1

GOALS – FT: Brendan Doel 3, Billy Sebor, Matt Graybush; H: Keith Hallbauer.

ASSISTS – FT: Brendan Doel 2, Chris Novella.

SAVES – FT: Aidan Purcell 8; H: Nick Roberto 9

SHOTS: Freehold Township, 23-19


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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