FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – After absorbing a lopsided defeat at the hands of Southern one year ago, Freehold Township’s players were more than eager for some payback this time around.

“I let in 16 goals so I was thinking about this all year, honestly,” said junior goalie Aidan Purcell. “I’ve been preparing for this game.”

One day after Southern scored a huge overtime victory over Rumson-Fair Haven, Freehold Township earned a thrilling win of its own thanks to Purcell’s brilliance in goal and some timely scoring late in the game. Purcell made 14 saves, including a huge stop in overtime, and sophomore attackman Brendan Doel scored with 58 seconds remaining in overtime as the Patriots, ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, stunned third-ranked Southern, 6-5, in a Shore Conference nondivisional game on Tuesday.

Trailing 5-3 in the fourth quarter, senior attackman Chris Novella pulled Freehold Township within one with an unassisted goal with 8:54 to go. In the final two nail-biting minutes, Freehold Township regained possession with 1:11 left and set up a play that resulted in junior midfielder Matt Kondrup scoring to tie the score with four seconds left. It all added up to a monstrous early-season victory that pushed Freehold Township to 4-0.

“This team never gives up, it’s amazing,” Purcell said. “We may start slow and we may have a slow third quarter but everyone always comes together at the end.”

“It wasn’t the prettiest game but we grinded it out and did all the little things that get the wins for us,” said Freehold Township head coach Ryan Eichner. “Every player made a play at some point in the game. We just kept playing. We’ve done that all year and I’m proud of my team for that.”

The defense has set the tone for Freehold Township thus far in 2018 and Purcell has been tremendous in the cage for a team allowing just 3.3 goals per game. He made stops from all angles and kept Southern guessing and trying to find his soft spot. But there wasn’t any. Southern scored twice and owned the second quarter with a 13-3 advantage in shots, but Purcell kept the Patriots in the game by making six saves. He had four more stops in the fourth quarter when Southern again controlled possession and had a monster save in overtime after the Rams won the face-off.

“Last year I made mistakes and I was sleeping a little on how they would shoot from anywhere,” Purcell said. “I really perfected that in the offseason to always put my body there and try to get there as quick as possible.”

“I’ve known Aidan since kindergarten and to see him grow up and mature, physically and mentally, he’s become a top player for us,” Eichner said. “He’s made some big saves all season and there were three or four saves that could have easily gone the other way. He’s been playing great all year and he had another big game today.”

Freehold Township’s pole unit of senior Tom Hall, freshman Mike Farrell, junior Evan Nastarowicz, sophomore Joel Maragoto, junior Connor Petrula and senior LSM T.J. Illuzzi have done their part as well.

“The way Tom plays at X I feel so safe with his defense, and having Evan and Mikey clearing the ball, I know they’re not going to let me down,” Purcell said. “It makes me play harder because I don’t want to let them down.”

Southern (4-1) opened the scoring when Ryan Comfort scored unassisted at the 6:55 mark of the first quarter. Some last-second heroics enabled Freehold Township to take the lead into the second quarter, however, as Novella set up Graybush for a goal with 53 seconds left and Novella scored with a long shot after a quick pass from Ryan O’Donoghue to beat the first-quarter buzzer.

Southern dominated the second quarter with senior FOGO Anthony Firmani going 3-for-3 on draws and the Rams out-shooting the Patriots, 13-3. Ryan McWhorter’s goal at 9:54 tied the game at two and Aniello Russo’s tally just over 90 seconds later gave Southern a 3-2 lead. If not for Purcell’s six saves Southern could have blown the game open.

Late in the third quarter Russo scored to give Southern a 4-2 lead, but Freehold Township responded quickly – and again with time winding down – as Graybush scored unassisted with 41 seconds left to make it 4-3. Russo completed the hat trick 1:28 into the fourth quarter to give Southern a 5-3 lead.

With Southern clinging to a one-goal lead late in the game, defensive midfielder Vinnie Deck made a big play to knock the ball loose and defenseman Luke Gerhardt picked up the ground ball. Southern called timeout and had a chance to run out the clock and secure another huge victory, but Freehold Township caught a break when the Rams failed to keep the ball in the box, giving possession back to the Patriots. Freehold Township crossed midfield and called timeout with 1:11 to play.

“We knew the skip was open all game so we looked to go backside,” Kondrup said. “We were just looking for the one more (pass) and put it in. We waited for the right shot. Nick (Elimanco) saw me, I had plenty of grass and just let it go.”

In overtime Purcell made a fantastic kick save on a quick turnaround shot by Russo and then picked up a ground ball after a shot by Russo bounced harmlessly into the crease. The Patriots cleared the ball quickly through the midfield to O’Donoghue who found Doel in the middle of the box. The sophomore whipped an overhand shot past Southern goalie Luke Maul to set off the celebration.

“I knew we had short time and our fast breaks always work,” Doel said. “Evan moved the ball up to O.D. and I cut right through and it opened up right away.”

As with many teams this early in the season Freehold Township is still trying to mold itself into the team it wants to be when May arrives. Eichner acknowledged that wins in April, no matter how big, aren’t the ones that are remembered. Nevertheless, his team showed him something on Tuesday.

“We’re still trying to figure out who we are and with the inexperience and the lack of practice time we’re still figuring it out,” Eichner said. “I think we learned a lot about ourselves today.”


Box Score

No. 6 Freehold Township 6, No. 3 Southern 5 (OT)

Freehold Township (4-0) 2 0 1 2 1 – 6

Southern Regional (4-1)  1 2 1 1 0 – 5

GOALS – S: Aniello Russo 3, Ryan Comfort, Ryan McWhorter; FT: Chris Novella 2, Matt Graybush 2, Matt Kondrup, Brendan Doel.

ASSISTS – FT: Ryan O’Donoghue 2, Chris Novella, Nick Elimanco.

SAVES – S: Luke Maul 6; FT: Aidan Purcell 15.

SHOTS: Southern 35-19.


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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