The intensity of a Class B North rivalry that began simmering during the regular season boiled over into the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament, as ninth-seeded Ocean met top-seeded Red Bank Catholic on Tuesday evening in a hard-hitting rematch.
The Caseys entered the game having defeated the Spartans in two divisional meetings prior by a combined score of 9-2, and though it often proves most difficult to topple any opponent three times in a single year, it was much of the same for Red Bank Catholic which skated past Ocean by a score of 4-3.
“We saw these guys a couple of times during the regular season,” said Caseys assistant captain Ian Malon, who notched the eventual game-winner for Red Bank Catholic. “And though we beat them by a few goals, we knew what Ocean was capable of. We knew there was no taking it easy in this game. We had to stay mentally tough if we were going to get through this one.”
Red Bank Catholic used its team-speed to take advantage of an aggressive Ocean defensive scheme early in the first period, as Evan Hoey and Alec Mintz skated in behind the Spartans defense and executed a two-on-one to perfection, the former hitting the latter with a laser of cross-crease pass, and putting the Caseys up 1-0 at 1:13.
Hoey extended the lead to 2-0 late in the first period once again exploiting an aggressive Spartans defense. After receiving a pass on the tape in stride from Mintz, the sophomore worked past the last Ocean defenseman back and lifted a wrist shot over the glove of Spencer Reu, who made 21 saves in the loss.
“I think we utilized our speed very well in the beginning,” Caseys coach Ken Carlson said. “We were able to get behind their defense a couple of times early, but then they made the adjustment, started backing up, and we lost those opportunities.”
The Spartans cut into the Caseys lead 1:40 into the second period when their potent first line generated a scoring chance as David Newcomb and Andrew Schulz peppered Caseys net-minder Mike Cosentino with shots before Matt Schulz hammered home a rebound, his 29th goald of the season, making it 2-1.
The goal was the only one of three relinquished by Cosentino, who stopped 27 shots in the victory, as the senior once again proved instrumental in a Caseys victory.
“Mike continues to do a great job for us each night out,” Carlson said. “He’s improved dramatically on his rebound control from the beginning of the season. He’s really been working on that and as a result he’s been playing outstanding for us.”
Todd Goehring put the Caseys up 3-1 later in the second, splitting a more subdued defensive pairing with an outside-inside maneuver, before beating the keeper over the glove at 10:16.
Andrew Schulz pulled the Spartans within one at 7:22 of the third, banking a crossing pass off a defender and in, but an ailing Ian Malone who is suffering from a swollen right hand followed quickly with another Caseys tally at 9:00. In the waning seconds of regulation an entanglement behind the Caseys net knocked Cosentino’s stick to the corner and John Walsh ripped a slapper to the back of the net, but time eventually ran out on Ocean’s comeback bid, in which they outshot the Caseys 30-25.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Ocean coach Dave Smith said. “Since blew the third period on opening night against Red Bank we fashioned ourselves to be a third period team and we won the third period again tonight. These guys were the top seed for a reason, and I can’t think a better prep game for the states for us. We’re not going to dwell on this one. We’ve already shifted our focus on another mountain ahead.”
With the loss Ocean now prepares for its first-round action as the No. 12 seed in the NJSIAA Public A tournament, where they’ll host No. 21 River Dell on Tuesday, while Red Bank Catholic moves on to the Shore Conference semifinals, where the Caseys will host fourh-seeded Point Boro on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. at the Red Bank Armory.