By Brian Deakyne
BRIDGEWATER – The Eagles were their own worst enemy.
“I think playing them last week hurt us,” Middletown South head coach Stan Gutt said. “Our guys came out and thought they would beat them again. Howell came out and had a little vendetta to prove, and they proved it. They played a lot better, they won every loose battle, they beat us to every loose puck. They deserved to win.”
Middletown South fell behind the eight ball early, when Howell’s Frankie Gerbasi used a toe drag to slip behind the defense and slid the puck past South net-minder Shubhro Bose on Howell’s first shot, 32 seconds into the game.
Despite tying the game later in the period, the Eagles were never able to get momentum, due in large part to the five penalties they took over the first two periods, with Howell connecting on two of their five power plays.
“That’s just a lack of skating,” Gutt said. “We let them beat us to all the loose pucks, and they came here ready, prepared and they came to play and we weren’t.”
Zach England scored his third goal of the tournament 4:05 into the game, when he took a trailing pass and ripped it past Howell goalie Zack Peras, tying the score at one.
The Rebels reeled off three straight goals, taking a commanding lead, and keeping the pressure on South’s defense, who struggled to gain possession of the puck and keep it out of their defensive zone.
Bose removed himself from the game mid-way through the third period, after giving up four goals on 31 shots. Trevor Ralph replaced Bose, stopping all five shots that he faced.
The Eagles were out-shot, 37-25.
Billy Murphy drew the Eagles within two goals, when he ripped a shot past Peras with 6:31 left, but that was all that Middletown South would manage.
With the loss, they finished the tournament with a 1-2 record and a sixth place finish. The Eagles fell victim to Ridge in the first round, 4-2, after two South goals were overturned by the officials. However, South cruised through the second round behind Chris Connor’s four-goal performance en route to a 5-1 win over Montville.
“Our guys sometimes think that you are going to go out there and chalk it up, and it doesn’t happen that way,” Gutt said.
Through the first month, the Eagles sit in second place in the Shore ‘A’ behind Brick Township, although there is a tough road ahead, playing Red Bank Catholic and Christian Brothers Academy in back-to-back games.
“Games like these are excellent games to build off of. You have to know that you can’t take a day off. Let them suffer a little bit.”