WEST LONG BRANCH - Facing one of the most potent goal-scoring attacks on his team's schedule, Toms River North coach Tom Miller decided to take a gamble and move his best offensive player to the center of the back line to protect the goal.

If the trade-off on offense was a concern for Miller and Mariners going into the game, senior Marisa Tava and junior Alexa Peto quickly allayed those fears and made the lineup change pay off.

Tava assisted a goal by Peto four minutes into the match and added an insurance goal in the 61st to back a lock-down Toms River North defense in a 2-0 win over Shore Regional on Thursday. The win pushes the Mariners - the No. 5 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament - into the SCT semifinals for the third consecutive season.

Alexa Peto (6) celebrates her first-half goal with Jamie Wyckoff. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Toms River North sophomoreAlexa Peto (6) celebrates her first-half goal with teammate Jamie Wyckoff. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Junior Emily Royson moved from the center midfield to center fullback as a way to account for Shore's trio of Frankie McDonough, Julia Eichenbaum and Hannah Birdsall and steadied a defense that shutout a Shore team that had been held without a goal only twice over the past two seasons. Royson leads the Mariners with 11 goals to go with five assists, but her talents on the other end of the field were required on Thursday.

"There have been times where we will drop somebody back during the game while we're protecting a lead, but this was the first time we started the game with (Royson) in the back," Miller said. "Those three girls they have up top are pretty scary and we just felt like our best chance to win was to get some skill and athleticism in the back and try to get a ball behind their defense at some point."

It took only 45 seconds for Tava to generate Toms River North's first shot of the game, which Shore goalkeeper Julia Valinoti stopped. Late in the fourth minute, Tava found herself with the ball in front of the goal and knocked it to the right post, where Peto settled it and buried a shot to the far left side netting.

"I tend to look to pass first so even though I had a good shot, my instinct kicked in," Tava said of the first Toms River North goal. "I saw Lexa on the right side and she put it away."

"Scoring first is always huge for us, especially after moving Emily to the back," Miller said. "We scored early (in the round-of-16) against St. John Vianney and I think that really set the tone for us and today was the same thing."

While Toms River North kept Shore off the board, it still had to withstand a run of pressure from the Blue Devils, which came over the final 15 minutes of the first half. Ultimately, however, Shore manufactured just one shot on goal in the game, with eight shots missing the mark.

"We talked a lot about preventing those breakaways and they only got one, which we got lucky they didn't finish," Miller said. "With Emily back there, she is going to keep us organized and she has speed to chase a play down. It's a natural position for her, she is just doing what we think the team needs her to do by pushing up and scoring goals."

Tava added an insurance goal in the 61st minute, which came after a long throw-in from Jaszmin Brown. Morgan Curtis placed a shot on frame and Valinoti's parry landed at the feet of Tava, who poked it in from point-blank range.

Next up, Toms River North will take on top-seeded and unbeaten Middletown North (15-0) in Saturday's SCT semifinal round at 7 p.m. at Point Pleasant Boro High School. Despite losing most of its starting lineup from last year's SCT semifinalist team, the Mariners see themselves as a team capable of winning two more games and capturing their second SCT title in seven years.

"Knowing we had a lot of new girls on the team this year, we were always looking to get better as the season went on," Tava said. "We still have a lot of girls who were here last year and when you play at North, you know this is the time of year when everyone has to step up."


Box Score

Toms River North 2, Shore 0

Toms River North (10-3-1)112
Shore (12-5)000

Goals (Assists): (TRN) Alexa Peto (Marissa Tava) 4', Marisa Tava (Morgan Curtis) 61'
Shots: Tied, 9-9
Saves: (TRN) Cameron Kennett 1; (S) Julia Valinoti 4


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