By Brian Deakyne
WEST LONG BRANCH — When sophomore Eamon Kitson struck a volley from 25 yards out that found the back of the net, he even surprised himself.
The shot, which gave Rumson-Fair Haven the lead in the 68th minute, proved to be the game-winner as the fifth-seeded Bulldogs advanced past fourth-seeded Shore Regional, Friday afternoon, 2-1, at Shore Regional high school.
On what appeared to be a broken play, Kitson was able to get a strong shot off, while falling backwards, and his kick found the upper corner of the goal, stunning everyone on the field, and ultimately lifting Rumson-Fair Haven to the semi-finals of the Central Jersey Group II state tournament.
“I really didn’t think it was going in, I thought it was going over,” Kitson said, “In practice the day before was the first time we worked on volleys. I was nervous but I hit it and it went right in over the goalie.”
Despite trailing for a good margin of the game, the Blue Devils evened the score when Geoff Briscione buried a penalty kick in the 59th minute. Jon Junqueira was taken down inside the box, and after a lengthy delay for his injury; Briscione nailed the penalty kick to the left corner, tying the game at one.
Shore had plenty of chances to add to their lead — and even tie the game earlier in the half — but Bulldogs keeper Chris Tierney turned away multiple chances for the Blue Devils.
“There’s a lot of emotion in this game,” Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Jon Reynolds said, “[Shore Regional head coach] Christian Pontier and I were saying before the game that we’ve never played a game that’s been more than one goal one way or the other. Our boys knew it was going to be tough, it was a battle.
“[Eamon] Kitson had a flash of brilliance on that volley there, and we were able to park the bus in front of the net and play defense.”
Ben Alderoty put the Bulldogs’ on the scoreboard first, picking up a rebound in front of the net, and lifting it to the top-left corner in the 21st minute. After a long throw-in to the 18-yard box, the Blue Devils defense was unable to get the ball out, and Alderoty finished the goal.
Tierney made a beautiful save late in the first half, diving to his right to stop a shot from Shore’s Lukas Montesinos.
Tierney continued to impress in the second half, most notably when he stoned Briscione off a corner. Briscione received a pass in front of the net, and slid a shot on the ground, but Tierney got his leg out to kick the ball away.
Later, Tierney punched Mike O’Connell’s header away in a diving stop in the 52nd minute, keeping the Bulldogs in front.
“These guys are warriors. They played so hard and they really love each other. You can see the way they screw around with each other in practice and in the hallways. This is a family, and they’re going to give everything they have because they wouldn’t be letting a teammate down, they would be letting down a brother. They go 110% all the time,” Reynolds said.
Junqueira had a number of chances throughout the game, as his best may have come in the 74th minute. Blue Devils’ keeper Matt Cosention booted the ball down the length of the field, and after taking control, Junqueira blasted the ball over the net.
Junqueira later took a red card in the 80th minute, taking a frustration foul when he shoved a Rumson-Fair Haven defender.
“It’s real important to move forward,” Kitson said, “I don’t think this team has ever been in the semi-finals, so we’re going to play really hard.”
Rumson-Fair Haven will play the winner of top-seeded Gov. Livingston and ninth-seeded Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 8.