Brick Memorial’s Tom Hernandez walks away as Manalapan celebrate their their fifth goal behind him during Brick Memorial vs Manalapan Boys NJSIAA State Soccer game in Manalapan NJ on November 6 2014. Peter Ackerman /Staff Photographer
MANALAPAN – When the Mustangs went ahead with 37:32 remaining in the second half, it looked like seventh-seeded Brick Memorial could be on the verge of an upset. However, the second-seeded Braves found a way to rally and make it to the third round of the state playoffs.
“After that we got snapped back into reality, for the seniors this is our last chance and some of the underclassmen think it could be their last chance too because you never know what’s going to happen, so we just gave it our all,” senior Rob Pratka said.
Junior Ayush Mittal’s second goal of the game started a second half surge for the Braves, who defeated Brick Memorial 5-2 in the second round of the NJSIAA tournament Thursday afternoon at the Manalapan Recreation Center.
“They got up on us quick in both halves, but fortunately for us we kept our composure in the second half and put some passes together and then the goals came,” said Manalapan Head Coach John Natoli.
Brick Memorial grabbed the lead with 37:36 left in the first half after senior forward Bryan Malerba took advantage of a turnover and drilled a shot past senior goalie Mike Cavanaugh.
Junior Ayush Mittal would answer for the Braves after he dribbled past three defenders and launched a shot into the top left corner of the net making the score 1-1 at the half.
“I had three guys in front of me and we were down one goal so I knew I had to do something, so I just worked the ball through, saw an opening and took advantage of it,” Mittal
The Mustangs took advantage of the first five minutes again in the second half, when Malerba found senior midfielder Kevin Simek who scored to give Brick Memorial a 2-1 lead.
“I think that’s the first time we’ve done that all year, but I’m glad it happened because there’s nothing that can stop this team except ourselves, it showed great character that we were able to come back twice,” Pratka said.
Over 12 minutes later, junior Mittal fired a shot that hit off a Mustang defender and into the back of net to tie the game at 2.
Pratka would then find junior midfielder Mitchell Volis, to give the Braves their first lead of the game with 18:56 left in the game. Three minutes later Volis would return the favor when he fired a pass to Pratka, who put the game out of reach at 4-2 in the 55th minute.
“I look around and I see the other teams we played, Boro (Freehold) and Brick Memorial, and I see all the seniors crying and I don’t want that feeling to happen so it feels great that I get to play another game,” Pratka said.
Senior forward Ryan Hammer scored the final goal of the game with 10:55 left.
After losing in the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament, the Braves have been motivated to make a statement in the state tournament.
“The kids really wanted to defend their title in Shore Conference, but it didn’t work out so we have to turn out attention to the next goal which is the state tournament,” Natoli said.
Brick Memorial head coach Steve Ferullo said this was the best season the Mustangs have had since he’s been there.
“Our guys fought hard, this team (Manalapan) was number one in the shore all year for a reason and we hung with them, but we just couldn’t get the job done today,” said Ferullo. “We made the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time, two guys scored double digit goals, and making it to the second round of the states for the first time in eight years is a gift and it’s great for the program.”
Manalapan will take on Hunterdon Central in the third round of the NJSIAA playoffs. Hunterdon Central, the defending Central Group 4 Champions, eliminated the Braves last year in the quarterfinals after winning 1-0.
“We look forward to the challenge and hopefully we’ll be on the other end this year,” Natoli said.
Brett Bodner email@example.com
There were several other NJSIAA second round boys soccer games postponed due to rain, that will be played Friday. No. 9 Freehold Township will take on No. (1) Montgomery at 2 p.m. in a Central Group IV meeting. No. 12 Long Branch will take on No. 4 Allentown at 10:30 a.m. in a Central Group III meeting.
In Central Group II action No. 11 Rumson Fair-Haven will host No. 14 Bordentown, and No. 7 Holmdel will play at No. 2 Delran at 2 p.m. No. 6 St. John Vianney will play at No. 3 CBA will also meet for the first time this season in a Non-Public South A second round game at 2 p.m.