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The Middletown North boys soccer team has been an underdog from the start of the season and, really, over the last decade. The Lions have made a run to an NJSIAA sectional final in Group III and been in the running for a Shore Conference division title while a member of Class B North, but most of their years have been spent fighting for their proverbial lives in the Class A North division.

The underdog rallying cry served Middletown North mixed results during the regular season, but now that tournament time has arrived, the Lions are relishing the role.

Last week, Middletown North -- seeded No. 13 in the tournament -- turned back Matawan at home to open up the Shore Conference Tournament, then upset fourth-seeded Freehold Township in the SCT round of 16. With their win over No. 12 Long Branch on penalty kicks on Monday, the Lions punched their ticket to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2004 while also claiming the sixth Surf Taco Team of the Week award of 2022.

Photo: Steve Meyer
Photo: Steve Meyer

Middletown North entered the 2022 season with a mix of youth and senior leadership, but with heightened expectations given the experience of its youth. The Class A North schedule was a lot for the Lions to handle during a 6-12 season in 2021 and even with a more battle-tested group this year, Middletown North is just 2-4 in division with one game remaining against Manalapan.

Within that 2-4 mark, however, is a team that has made obvious strides. Since losing to Howell, 2-0, on opening day, Middletown North is 7-4-1 and all four losses have been by a one-goal margin. Those four one-goal losses include a loss to Thursday's semifinal opponent, Christian Brothers Academy, as well as an overtime loss to the Freehold Township side the Lions would later beat in the SCT.

The tournament run started with a 3-1 win over Matawan in which the Lions overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit by scoring three times in the second half. Senior Mike Colantino scored a goal and assisted another to lead the way, with sophomore Josiah Stepney and junior Travis Soto each adding a goal as well.

In the next round, Middletown North took the lessons it learned from its loss to Freehold Township during the season and used them to turn the result around. Senior C.J. Sanford delivered the lone goal -- his first of the season -- and the Lions defense held the fort to deliver a 1-0 road win over the defending Central Jersey Group IV champions.

Due to Long Branch closing its campus to after-school activities, Middletown North hosted the 12th-seeded Green Wave in Monday's quarterfinal. The Lions picked apart Long Branch, 5-1, in a regular-season meeting, but Middletown North found itself behind, 2-1, in the latter stages on Monday. Sophomore Josiah Stepney stepped up with the equalizer to level the score at 2-2 and send it to overtime.

The Lions made it to a shootout and did not miss, with Colantino -- who also scored during regulation -- hitting the clinching kick to send Middletown North to its first SCT semifinal round since 2004.


2022 Team of the Week Winners

Week 1: Middletown South

Week 2: Point Pleasant Boro

Week 3: Marlboro

Week 4: Matawan

Week 5: Howell


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