The two-time defending champions refused to push the panic button.
Trailing by a goal early in the third period against upset-minded Robbinsville and facing elimination in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA Public A Tournament, Randolph was able to survive as Matt Bruno tied the game before freshman Chris Holowko won it at 6:17 of overtime off a goalmouth scramble as the Rams posted a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Ravens on Saturday at Mennen Sports Arena.
As a result, second seed Randolph, which has won the past two Public A titles, advances to the semifinals where it will play the winner of Monday’s quarterfinal-round showdown between third-seeded Ridge and No. 6 Brick Township. A victory there would lift the Rams into the Public A title game on March 9 at the Prudential Center.
Holowko’s game-winning goal came on the Rams’ 46th shot of the game as the home team outshot the visitors 46-20, but again had trouble finishing around the net. Randolph has scored just 12 goals in its three tournament wins to date on a total of 152 shots but has allowed just two.
“This is a great win after being down in the third period,” Holowko said. “We knew it would be tough to come back but we also knew we had it in us. We just need to treat every game like the state final.”
Holowko’s game-winning goal came after Bruno had won a battle in the corner in the offensive zone and slid the puck into the slot. Holowko then lunged at the puck and got a shot off that just trickled over the goal line.
“I saw Matt in the corner so I just crashed the net,” Holowko said. “I lost sight of the puck after I shot it but then just saw it cross the goal line.”
Randolph grabbed the lead just 3:06 into the opening period when senior defenseman Robert Bolinder scored a power-play goal just six seconds into the man advantage. Sophomore forward Noah Leinwand won the draw in the offense zone, pulling the puck back to Bolinder, who skated along the blueline before ripping the slapper past Ravens’ goaltender Kellen Anker.
“We’re just happy to win and move on,” said Bolinder, the Rams’ captain. “We know that any shot is a good shot in overtime. We just kept firing and we knew one would eventually go in.”
Limited to just three shots on goal for the majority of the first period, Robbinsville was able to pull even on a goal by Zack Bryan with just 16 seconds remaining. Bryan redirected shot from the point past Rams’ netminder Andrew Holowko. It was the first goal allowed by Randolph in three state tournament games.
Kellen came up with two key saves on a late Randolph power play during a scoreless second period which saw the Rams hold a 13-5 shot advantage. The senior netminder first stopped Stefan Tamminga on a point-blank attempt and then robbed freshman Dan Janson on a backdoor play late in the period. Andrew Holowko’s best save in the period came in the final 30 seconds when he denied Eric Hildebrand with a right pad save from in tight.
Robbinsville took its first lead of the game just 36 seconds into the third period when Keith Allen’s slap shot from just inside the blueline got past Andrew Holowko. But the Rams continued to pressure and answered at 3:58 when Bruno won a battle for the puck behind the Ravens’ net and scored on a wraparound. Leinwand and Jon Abrams assisted on the tying goal for the home team.
Robbinsville 1 0 1 0 –2
Randolph 1 0 1 1 –3
First period: 1. RA, Robert Bolinder (Noah Leinwand), 3:06 (pp); 2. RO, Zack Bryan (Scott Kurzeja, Logan Fredericks), 14:44.
Second period: No scoring.
Third period: 3. RO, Keith Allen (Logan), :36; 4. RA, Matt Bruno (Leinwand, Jon Abrams), 3:58.
Overtime: 5. RA, Chris Holowko (Matt Bruno, Abrams), 6:17.
Shots on goal: Robbinsville 5-5-9-1–20. Randolph 12-13-12-9–46.
Goalies: Robbinsville, Kellen Anker (46-43). Rand, Andrew Holowko (20-18).