The Case for No. 3: Shore sends a message with win over Freehold Township
WEST LONG BRANCH – With a veteran roster returning and talented newcomers joining the fold, division realignment has been a bit of a Catch 22 for Shore Regional.
Moving from the deep and competitive Class B North division to the top-heavy Class B South division no doubt helped the Blue Devils capture the program’s first division championship, but it also left them without the list of challenging opponents they’ve enjoyed in years past. The opportunities for resume-bolstering wins have been few and far between.
When those opportunities have come up, however, Shore has been dominant, and that was again the case on Tuesday night.
Playing their first ranked opponent of the season, the Blue Devils, No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, flew past No. 9 Freehold Township for an impressive 17-6 Shore Conference nondivisional win at Feeney Field. Senior attackman Jake Turner scored four goals and added four assists, senior midfielder Gil Goldsmith tallied two goals and five assists and senior midfielder Jack McCrae and freshman midfielder Jamie Mazzacco each recorded hat tricks as Shore improved to 11-0.
“I feel like today we wanted to come out and prove a point,” Goldsmith said. “Saturday against Lacey (a 15-2 win) was great; winning our first division title, a goal we set in the beginning of the year and I’m glad we accomplished it. But outside the division we knew we hadn’t accomplished anything, so we came in with the mindset that we had to dominate from the get-go.”
“We need to play well against better teams and take advantage of every single opportunity,” McCrae said. “I think we did that tonight.”
Conversely, Freehold Township (8-5) has seen many of the Shore Conference’s best teams this season, squaring off against Christian Brothers Academy, Howell and Middletown South in Class A North play and taking on Southern, Wall and St. John Vianney in nondivisional games. The Patriots didn’t make it easy for Shore, absorbing body blows and hanging around through halftime. But eventually, Shore delivered the knockout punch with by scoring eight of the game’s final nine goals.
The timing of Tuesday’s game was also something on the Blue Devils’ collective minds. The Shore Conference Tournament will be seeded Wednesday night, meaning this was Shore’s final game to make its case. Manasquan will be the No. 1 seed and CBA will almost certainly be the No. 2 seed. It’s up in the air as to which team will be seeded third and the Blue Devils wanted to leave little doubt it should be them.
“Definitely. Today was the cutoff so I feel like we really had to come out and send a message that we deserve the No. 3 spot,” Goldsmith said. “I truly believe when we’re clicking, we can hang with anyone in the Shore Conference, even the elite.”
“We didn’t put too much emphasis on it but we said, first and foremost, we have to go out and win the game. That would establish us. Second was if we can make a statement, make a statement,” said Shore head coach Gregg Malfa. “(Freehold Township) made it very tough for us in the beginning and went toe-to-toe with us. Our guys righted the ship.”
Shore jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Goldsmith and Turner, but Freehold Township answered on goals by Brendan Doel and Nick Elimanco to tie the score at two with 4:45 left in the opening quarter. Malfa was not happy with some mistakes during that stretch, and he let his team know about it.
His senior-laden team responded as he hoped, scoring four goals in the final 3:54 of the quarter to take the lead for good. Freehold Township was able to stay within striking distance, trailing 8-4 at the half, but Shore outscored the Patriots 9-2 in the second half.
Games like Freehold; we’ve never beaten them before; lost to them in overtime my freshman year, got smacked by them in Shore Conference sophomore year, so this was a big game,” McCrae said. “It’s one we really wanted for a long time. Not to say there’s bad blood between us but they really handed it to us the past few years, so it was nice to get this one.”
Shore’s balanced offense was on full display with Turner, Goldsmith, McCrae, Mazzacco, senior attackmen Tom Bocco and Justin Murphy and sophomore midfielder Terry Carlstrom delivering multi-point games. Shore’s success both Tuesday night and since opening day has been about more than just those on the scoresheet.
Sophomore face-off specialist Sean O’Brien has been a revelation this season, winning 72 percent of draws and picking up 94 ground balls. He was 18-for-25 on Tuesday night.
“It all starts with Sean O’Brien at face-off X, he was fantastic today,” Goldsmith said. “He’s the motor and the glue guy who gets us going.”
“I could probably say the last two or three games we’ve had where we’ve been challenged, if you want to give a game ball to somebody it would be Sean O’Brien,” Malfa said. “Whenever you put something in front of that kid he responds. They changed things up on him and he lost a couple, but he figured it out. He’s tough as nails.”
Junior long-stick midfielder Jake Shirley is another player whose impact has been vital to Shore’s success. Whether it’s sprinting off the wing to pick up ground balls on face-offs or defending one of the opposition’s best players, he has excelled. Against Freehold Township he collected nine ground balls and held Freehold Township senior Matt Kondrup, one of the Shore’s top midfielders, to zero points.
“I told him, ‘you’re going to be on Kondrup today, he’s a tough kid, very fast, very athletic, has a really good shot and you really have to be on top of your game,” Malfa said. “He didn’t bat an eye. That was one of our main matchups.”
“What he gives Sean on the wing is tremendous and he just doesn’t quit. He and Sean are motor guys, they just keep going and when you challenge them they’re always up for the challenge.”
Next up is the Shore Conference Tournament, which begins Saturday afternoon. Regardless of where the Blue Devils ended up being seeded, they are prepared to show the rest of the conference they are indeed among the best.
“Seeing teams like Rumson, Squan, CBA, Southern dominate the Shore Conference and make the finals for, basically forever it feels like, to potentially be able to change that with this team would be awesome,” McCrae said. “It’s almost like a dream come true. To get on the big stage is something we’ve been talking about for a while.”
No. 4 Shore Regional 17, No. 9 Freehold Township 6
|Freehold Township (8-5)||2||2||1||1||6|
GOALS – FT: Brendan Doel 2, Nick Elimanco 2, Kyle Von Nessen, Jake Liebross; S: Jake Turner 4, Jack McCrae 3, Jamie Mazzacco 3, Tom Bocco 2, Gil Goldsmith 2, Terry Carlstom, Justin Murphy, Nick Crochet.
ASSISTS – FT: Brendan Doel 2, Kyle Von Nessen; S: Gil Goldsmith 5, Jake Turner 4, Terry Carlstom, Jack McCrae, Justin Murphy.
SAVES – FT: Aidan Purcell, 8; S: Scott Sirianni, 8.
SHOTS: Shore, 31-15.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.