WEST LONG BRANCH - Red Bank Catholic junior Emma Bruther was not part of last year's Caseys team that lost to Toms River North in the 2018 Shore Conference Tournament final, opting to play for a developmental academy instead.

Even when she decided to play for her high school this season, she didn't get to play to her liking because of a knee injury that sidelined her for three weeks.

Now healthy and serving as a scoring weapon off the bench, Bruther made up for lost time Wednesday night in a Shore Conference Tournament championship rematch with Toms River North and helped return the Caseys to the top of the Shore Conference.

Bruther had a hand in both goals Wednesday night at Shore Regional High School and Red Bank Catholic - the No. 3 seed in the SCT - blanked No. 4 Toms River North, 2-0, for their seventh conference title and first since 2013.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

"They really felt like at the end of the game last year, we were the better team - we just didn't score the goals," RBC coach Frank Lawrence said. "This time we came out to score the goals. The determination of it - we have been preaching since the beginning of the year that this team was going to be good enough to come back and win this."

After a quiet start to the game offensively for both teams, Bruther jumped into the formation from the bench and made an impact. Her 25-yard rip off the crossbar in the 28th minute bounced down in front of the goal, where sophomore Morgan Cupo finished with a header to open the scoring.

The goal was the fifth for Cupo in RBC's four tournament games and the third in the team's last two after the sophomore striker struck twice in a 2-0 semifinal win over Middletown North.

In the 33rd minute, Bruther did not need any help on the rebound. The junior beat the Mariners defense up the left flank and unleashed a left-footed shot from a difficult angle and found the far side netting for the second of the Caseys' two goals.

Teammates mob Emma Bruther (far left) after the junior scored to give Red Bank Catholic a 2-0 lead Wednesday night. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Teammates mob Emma Bruther (far left) after the junior scored to give Red Bank Catholic a 2-0 lead Wednesday night. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"When (Bruther) came in, that's when we got the first goal and then she scored the second goal," Lawrence said. "You can't talk enough about a kid who had some adversity - getting hurt, having to struggle to get back the playing time that she had and ultimately contributing again."

The goal was just the second of the year for Bruther, who missed seven games due to a knee injury and did not score her first goal until an 8-0 win over Monmouth Regional on Oct. 8. Prior to the injury, Bruther started RBC's first four games and contributed a pair of assists before going on the shelf.

"I don't mind (coming off the bench)," Bruther said. "I think it's good because they (the other team) are not expecting someone off the bench to come in and be just as good as the other forwards."

Red Bank Catholic never added to its lead after halftime but Bruther did threaten the goal two more times in pursuit of a multi-goal performance in the championship. She rocked the crossbar again in the 70th, with freshman Gianna Romeo missing just wide on the follow. In the 73rd, Bruther made one more big at a second goal by Toms River North junior goalkeeper Cameron Kennett made a diving save to her left.

"She was a little rusty and it took her a little time to get back," Lawrence said. "We kept her in this role of coming off the bench because when she walks onto the field, it's a different dynamic. She brings a certain kind of speed and energy to the game that suddenly, they are having to deal with something that is totally different from what they had been dealing with until that time."

The Caseys limited Toms River North's chances by winning the battle of the midfield, led by its four senior starters - Paige Theobald, Madison Holloway, Reagan Pauwels and Katelyn Bertoldo.

"The wide balls were really working well," Bruther said. "We were really working the ball side-to-side to get our opportunities."

Emma Bruther (13) and Morgan Cupo celebrate Cupo's goal in the 28th minute. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Emma Bruther (13) and Morgan Cupo celebrate Cupo's goal in the 28th minute. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Toms River North's only threats to score came mostly from the work of senior forward Julia Fiorito, who fired a pair of shots just high and was denied on two occasions by Red Bank Catholic sophomore goalkeeper Cleo Gringald.

The shutout is the eighth of the season for RBC, which has been the Shore's hottest team since losing to Middletown South, 2-1, on Sept. 13. After letting that game slip out of its grasp, the Caseys have since gone 11-0-1 while added the program's Shore-Conference-leading seventh Shore Conference Tournament championship on the girls side.

Last year's SCT runner-up Caseys team boasted 11 seniors, six of whom are on Division I soccer rosters this season, according to Lawrence. A whole host of young and inexperienced Caseys have stepped in and proven their worth, with Bruther serving as the latest example on Wednesday night.

"We're not selfish and we all want the best for the team," Bruther said. "There is not one forward who can't score and we all work well together."

"Seven championships is a lot and I think it just shows the quality of the program over a long period of time," Lawrence said.


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