Rumson-Fair Haven senior Matt Dell headed in one of the biggest goals of his career, sending the third-seeded Bulldogs to their first Shore Conference Tournament final. Harrison Gassert sent in a corner just high enough where only the 6-foot-2 Dell could convert the winning goal in the 77th minute to upset second-seeded Holmdel 1-0 in a semifinal at Memorial Stadium on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs had several scoring chances thoughout the entire game, finally breaking through with just three minutes left in regulation.
“We just had to keep pushing, all game our coach was just telling us to try and get our numbers up on set pieces like that,” Dell said.
Dell, who is mostly a defensive midfielder for the Bulldogs, said he knew it was important to try and finish a goal before the end of regulation.
“We had to try and capitalize on the opportunities we were getting, especially if we wanted to move forward and try and win this tournament,” Dell said. “I saw that the ball was curling in deep and heard their keeper call for it, so I just jumped up and beat him to the ball and it found the back of the net.”
Dell had made a point at halftime that the balls needed to find the back far post on corners, and Gassert was able to do just that for the Bulldogs.
Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Will Gould has led his team to its first SCT final berth, but not before watching his team struggle early in the game. Gould tactically knew that the Hornets were going to key in on senior Eamon Kitson, so he decided to drop him back in the midfield, something he would quickly change after the first 10 minutes of the game.
“Kitson has been so big for us all year winning balls and getting us forward,” Gould said. “He was getting doubled every time he touched the ball, so the guys around him really had to step up.”
Rumson had several scoring chances in the first half, including a penalty kick just three minutes into the start of the game. Holmdel keeper Tyler Marchiano had a monster day in net, stopping the early PK and finishing with 16 saves. Marchaino kept the Hornets in the game for 77 minutes until Dell was able to break through on the corner.
“He just made some fantastic saves all game for them,” Gould said. “We are constantly putting pressure on the net every game we play, I give him a lot of credit for the game he had tonight.”
Not being able to find the back of the net has been something the Bulldogs have struggled with all season.
“It’s frustrating at times, teams tend to drop 10 behind the ball,” Gould said. “I just tell them that we have to keep playing our game, and eventually someone is going to answer for us and put the ball in the back of the net.”
Struggling to score isn’t a serious problem if you have a defense that is playing as well as the Bulldogs have this tournament. In three SCT games, the Bulldogs defense and keeper Chris Tierney have yet to allow a goal.
“Our defense is playing on another level then what we have seen all season,” Gould said. “We are all now finally on the same page on the defensive side of the ball, we are clicking on all cylinders.”