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RED BANK — With three goals in the final four minutes of the first half, Red Bank Catholic had built a five-goal lead heading into the break, and seemed to have pulled away from rival Red Bank for good.

A furious five-goal outburst in the third quarter brought the Bucs back to life, however, and suddenly the Caseys were scrambling, trying to hold onto a one-goal lead and avoid what was a major pitfall last season.

Clinging to a one-goal lead in the fourth quarter, Red Bank Catholic killed off a pair of penalties in the final four minutes and used goals from seniors Ryan Coolahan and Alex Spiezio to hold off Red Bank for a 12-11 Shore Conference nondivisional victory on Monday afternoon at Count Basie Field.

“This was definitely a big one for us,” said sophomore midfielder Brett Habich. “They smacked us around pretty good last year.”

Habich and Coolahan each scored a game-high four goals along with two assists to help reverse last season’s 12-8 defeat. Sophomore middie Liam McArdle added a pair of goals and sophomore goalie Matt Benjamin made nine saves to hand the Bucs their first loss of the season and push the Caseys’ record to 4-2.

Red Bank Catholic sophomore midfielder Brett Habich scored four goals and added two assists in a 12-11 victory over Red Bank.

“I think last year in a lot of these close games, sometimes we lost our composure a little bit,” said Caseys head coach Ryan Eichner. “It was mental. This group of kids wants to win, and they’ve been working hard. We’ve been playing a lot of one-goal games, and we’re pulling them out this year.”

Last season the Caseys, who won the Shore Conference Tournament in 2010, went 4-11 for their first losing season since 2007. All but one of their losses came by five goals or less, and they went 0-4 in one-goal games, including losses to top-five teams Christian Brothers Academy and Freehold Township. They’ve already matched their win total from last season, and, more importantly, are 3-1 in one-goal games with wins over St. Rose, Monroe and Red Bank.

Red Bank Catholic dominated the midfield and, consequently, possession over the first 24 minutes in building an 8-3 halftime lead. Coolahan and Habich each struck twice in a five-goal first quarter, and Habich scored twice more in the final 1:24 of the second half. Red Bank’s comeback started with the face-off work of sophomore middie Brian Fagan, who went 5-for-6 in the third quarter. Jake Smolokoff scored the first of his team-high three goals at 9:24 of the third to make it 8-4, but the Caseys answered back less than a minute later when Habich made a great feed to McArdle at the top of the crease, and he ripped it past Jon Pierce to re-establish RBC’s five-goal lead.

Junior middie Dan Vilardi bounced a shot past Benjamin from straight on at 7:58 of the third, and an own-goal by RBC credited to Karl Hottman cut the Caseys’ lead to 9-6. Red Bank Catholic kept its distance for the time being when senior attackman Mike Oristano converted a feed from Coolahan with 6:00 left to make it 10-6, but a goal by Smolokoff at 3:21 and another by Vilardi off a pass from Fagan with 56 seconds left in the quarter pulled Red Bank to within 10-8 to start the fourth quarter.

One minute and 10 seconds into the fourth quarter, Vilardi drove to his right and ripped a shot from 15 yards out past Benjamin to make it 10-9. Coolahan netted his fourth of the game 53 seconds later to give RBC some breathing room, and a great individual play from Spiezio 50 seconds later put the Caseys on top for good. An errant pass by Red Bank bounced toward the midfield line, and as players on the other side were waiting for the ball to reach them, Spiezio raced in, scooped up the ground ball and took off toward the goal. The senior middie drove all the way to the net and fired a shot past Pierce to make it 12-9 with 9:07 left in the game.

“We have a lot of heart this year and this senior group is really working hard to win,” Eichner said. “That’s a perfect example.”

The ensuing three-goal lead was exactly what the Caseys needed. Smolokoff scored off a feed from Zackman on the man-advantage at 5:03 before younger brother Cole Smolokoff converted at 3:48 to make it 12-11. The Caseys were able to kill off two one-minute penalties over the final 3:48, including one with 1:09 remaining, to pick up a key victory.

“We played a tough out-of-conference schedule and came out 1-2 with a couple really good games,” Eichner said. “Now we’re back in the Shore, and looking at the scores this year you can see anybody can win. It’s going to come down to who wants it more.”


Box Score


Red Bank Catholic 12, Red Bank 11

Red Bank (5-1)                1 2 5 3 — 11

Red Bank Catholic (4-2)   5 3 2 2 — 12

GOALS - RBR: Jake Smolokoff 3, Dan Vilardi 3, George Zackman 2, Karl Hottman 2, Cole Smolokoff; RBC: Brett Habich 4, Ryan Coolahan 4, Liam McArdle 2, Alex Spiezio, Mike Oristano.

ASSISTS - RBR: Brian Fagan 2, George Zackman 2; RBC: Brett Habich 2, Ryan Coolahan 2, Alex Spiezio, Mike Oristano.

SAVES - RBR: Jon Pierce 6; RBC: Matt Benjamin 9.

SHOTS - Red Bank 37-32.