WALL — For the first 35 minutes, Tuesday’s playoff matchup between Shore Conference rivals Ranney and St. Rose looked like a deadlocked battle between two of the better squads in the section. The early press of the Purple Roses had gotten behind the Panthers’ back line multiple times, but the chances all fizzled out.
St. Rose head coach Simon Muckle knew that the frustration setting in was part of the opposing side’s gameplan.
“We can’t get frustrated, we can’t let them get what they want,” said Muckle of the message to his team. “They want to get our good players off our rhythm.”
Ranney was counterattacking more dangerously, but didn’t execute their pivotal early chances. It proved to be only a matter of time until the St. Rose players found their rhythm. And once they did it, it was an allegro tempo of attacking excellence.
With just under five minutes left in the first half, St. Rose senior Diego Nieves sparked an offensive explosion with a terrific chip shot that floated over the keeper and into the goal.
“You just got to find an opening,” said Nieves. “Help the team to progress quickly, however efficiently you can. And then, just get things going.”
Less than two minutes after that initial score, senior Carlos Ramos hit a terrific free kick into the box and fellow senior Matthew Alexis finished it off with a header into the net. The Roses didn’t look back as they ran away with a 5-0 victory and began their run at a second consecutive Non-Public B South section title. They’ll face 3-15-1 Princeton Day in the semifinals on Friday.
2nd half goal is the “backbreaker” as St. Rose gets win
After scoring two goals in the final five minutes, St. Rose could sense they were on the verge of finishing off their opponent. There was no letting up at the start of the second half and just over six minutes in, Andrew Restiano added another score in skillful fashion. The senior dribbled into the box before drilling a laser into the top left corner of the goal.
“At that time when we scored two goals, it’s pretty devastating for a team,” said Muckle. “And then the third goal was the backbreaker. And just the way it was scored, the emphatic fashion.”
Restiano wasn’t finished. He complimented that emphatic goal with a superb work of dribbling as he outwitted the keeper and tapped in another score with just over eight minutes left in the game. Indulging in the moment, he removed his jersey in celebration and promptly received a yellow card.
“(Restiano) saved his best game for today,” Muckle said.
Vladik Aguirre put the finishing touch on the win when a low crossing pass slipped past Ranney’s defense and landed right at his feet for the easy tap-in. The dominant victory certainly had to feel cathartic for a team with so many upperclassmen, who experienced their season come to an end at the hands of Ranney two years ago in the playoffs. Since then, they’ve won three straight against their Shore rival.
And while the final result makes it appear the game was never in question, Muckle was proud of the resilience his team display through the first 35 minutes.
“For us to just be consistent and just keep going in,” he said. “I’m really proud of the fact that I got a response out of Matt Dayton, where he assisted for Diego’s first goal. And again, Diego not giving up because he’s a player that can get frustrated and he didn’t. And he got the first goal.”
And in hindsight, that first score was the defining moment of the game.
“If they had gotten to halftime nil-nil, different game in the second half,” added Muckle. “The fact we scored two quick ones changed the game completely.”
After ‘bump in the road’, Roses focused on winning state
The added bit of released frustration for the Roses was also rooted in their previous game, a 2-1 loss to Manalapan, and their exit from the Shore Conference Tournament at the hands of Toms River North. But with those two losses to higher level competition comes confidence that this squad can make a deep postseason run in the NJSIAA Non-Public B tournament.
“Toms River North, it was a bump in the road,” said Nieves. “Can’t do anything about it. But now, you just got to focus on winning states. And I think we could do it.”
They certainly looked far better than their three-seed in the section playoffs. And as if they needed any extra advantages, they were buoyed by Princeton Day’s upset of second-seeded Doane Academy. Princeton Day had only two wins coming into that matchup, and their win means St. Rose will now be at home for their semifinal playoff game.
For Muckle and his team, the focus now is on avoiding any let downs in the Non-Public B bracket after they’ve faced some of the state’s best public teams during the Shore regular season.
“We’ve always had a challenge raising our game sometimes for some games, and then we’ve never had a problem raising it for others,” said Muckle. “That’s a testament to the fact we have a good quality group and we want to raise our game.”
But now that the team has opened the playoffs with an emphatic win and released some tension from those disappointing losses, they’re ready to make a run at the state title.
“Five goals today, we really got a monkey off our back,” he added. “It was a really great frustration release for them.”
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Jersey Shore boys soccer: St. Rose beats Ranney in NJSIAA Non-Public B