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After expending any physical energy they had left over the final 100 minutes of the season, the players on the St. Rose boys soccer team emptied what remaining emotion they had following the end of their 2022 boys soccer season.

They had hoped that expression of emotion would be a joyous one rather than of grief and disappointment, but it all circled back to something this year’s team generated more than any Purple Roses team of the last 12 years: hope.

A year ago, St. Rose won its first official outright division championship since 2010 and this year, the Purple Roses won a second consecutive division championship, earned the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B Tournament and finished off a dramatic sectional final with a penalty-shootout win.

All of that led up to Saturday’s showdown with Gill St. Bernard’s in the Non-Public B championship game and with each passing minute of the scoreless match, St. Rose started to inch closer to the championship trophy and believe that, for the first time in 12 years, it would be there’s before long.

Instead, St. Rose got as close as a team could get – particularly one not expected to be able to hold down three-time defending group champion Gill St. Bernard’s for 80-plus minutes – without actually touching the prize.

Photo: Bob Badders
Photo: Bob Badders

Gill St. Bernard’s dashed St. Rose’s state-championship dream with a 3-2 victory on penalties following a scoreless draw Saturday at Franklin High School, which was a game that lasted about 40 minutes of real time longer than most expected.

It wasn’t much comfort right after the final result punched them in the gut, but the Purple Roses took the season to its limit, ended a 12-year sectional championship drought and earned the final Surf Taco Team of the Week Award in 2022.

“I pushed them harder maybe than I think I should have, but they always seem to want more,” third-year St. Rose coach Simon Muckle said of his 2022 team. “Their appetite to just want to fight and dig, it’s second to none.”

To get a chance to beat Gill – a program that has won all seven of its state championships since 2009 – St. Rose had to go through two recent South Jersey sectional champions in Non-Public B, plus a round of penalty kicks on its home field.

In its state-tournament opener, St. Rose – the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey section – appeared to be on cruise control against defending sectional champion and ninth-seeded Princeton Day. A red card, however, tipped the scales in Princeton Day’s favor and St. Rose saw a 3-1 lead evaporate. Senior James Vitale then saved the day with the winning goal in the 72nd, which completed a two-goal performance for the senior and sent St. Rose to the sectional semifinals with a 4-3 win over the defending champs.

In the sectional semifinals, St. Rose hosted a Moorestown Friends side that won a sectional title in South Jersey in 2019. This one was a little more comfortable for the Purple Roses, who rode two more Vitale goals and never led by fewer than two scores in the second half on the way to a 3-1 win.

“We had to come through adversity to get here,” Muckle said. “They really showed their tenacity and their ability to play in difficult moments when they needed to.”

In the sectional final vs. Bishop Eustace, students and fans packed Fletcher Fields in Wall to watch St. Rose go for its first sectional championship since 2010. The Purple Roses controlled the pace of the game and delivered shot after shot, but could not break through in 100 minutes of action. Fortunately, the defense limited Bishop Eustace’s chances and junior goalkeeper Jack Harmon picked up a clean sheet of his own as the Purple Roses would get a chance to win on penalty kicks.

St. Rose punched home all five of its kicks and beat the Crusaders, 5-3, in the shootout to capture the program’s first South Non-Public B crown in 12 years.

In the state final, the roles were reversed and it was St. Rose attempting to withstand a major disadvantage in shots in order to get the game into overtime and penalty kicks with a chance for the Purple Roses to steal a championship from the favored Knights. Harmon put his best foot forward throughout the match, coming up with 12 saves in 100 minutes to record his second straight shutout.

Junior defender Matt Alexis showed his team’s willingness to sacrifice, when he covered an exposed portion of the goal and blocked a shot with his face midway through the second half. After a quick trip to the bench for a medical evaluation, he was back on the back line.

“We knew we had to make it organized, we knew we had to be disciplined and try to take our moments,” Muckle said. “For them to defend for 100 minutes and not let a team that scored 30 goals in six games have a real, clear chance on goal, it just goes to show the level of commitment.

“All the qualities they showed in the game is the qualities that are going to help them be good men, good fathers, and make the world a better place when they get older. The bravery, the determination, the self-sacrifice – Matt Alexis took a ball in the face, for crying out loud. They laid it all out and I couldn’t ask for more.”

This time, however, penalty kicks were not kind to St. Rose. Gill St. Bernard’s goalkeeper Mike Dumiec saved a shot and benefitted from a missed shot early in the shootout, but Harmon kept St. Rose’s hopes alive with a diving save on the Knights’ fourth attempt. That kept the score at 3-2 and gave St. Rose a chance to tie the shootout and force Gill to make its fifth kick to win it, but Dumiec made his second save of the penalty round to seal the victory with a 3-2 win in the shootout.

“It takes bravery to step up and take penalties and that’s what got to be celebrated,” Muckle said. “It will hurt, like any of this hurts. A lot of these boys have felt this before when we lost (to CBA) in the COVID year (2020) and last year to Ranney. I think it hurts because they really thought they could win and that’s all I asked of them: to believe, even if not a lot of other people necessarily did.”

The exhausting effort was not enough to land St. Rose its first state championship since 2010, but it was a worthy completion of the team’s best season in more than a decade. St. Rose won its second straight Class B Central after going 11 years without one, beat rival Wall early in the season and re-established a championship culture with a team that is set to return seven starters in 2023.

“We’re a small school, kind of an underdog and we’re alright with that,” Muckle said. “We’ve got a good junior class, we’ve got a lot of lads returning and we have won a division three years in a row, we played a championship game against CBA, we made it to another championship this year, so why can’t we keep going?”

2022 Boys Soccer Team of the Week Winners

Week 1: Middletown South

Week 2: Point Pleasant Boro

Week 3: Marlboro

Week 4: Matawan

Week 5: Howell

Week 6: Middletown North

Week 7: CBA

Week 8: Toms River North

Week 9: Shore

Week 10: St. Rose

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