By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MEDFORD — Shawnee and Ocean City played soccer for nearly 87 minutes on Wednesday afternoon in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals, but one second made all the difference for the host Renegades. Well, 1.1 seconds, to be exact.
That’s how much time was left on the first-half clock when Aiden Santamaria netted the equalizer, and nearly seven minutes into overtime Jacob Santamaria drilled home the game winner on a diving header as Shawnee beat the Red Raiders, 2-1, in dramatic fashion to punch its ticket to Saturday’s sectional final against Clearview. The top-seeded Pioneers took down No. 4 Cherry Hill West, 3-1, in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
Ocean City, which came in as the No. 3 seed, was playing against a stiff wind throughout the first half but got a huge momentum boost when Brayden Beloshapka absolutely blistered a shot from about 30 yards out to put the Red Raiders up, 1-0.
“We were preparing all week in practice for them, working hard, recovering — doing everything we needed to in order to be prepared for them. We were as prepared as we could be,” said Shawnee senior Joe Albert. “I saw their goal go in and I was like, ‘yeah, nobody is saving that shot.’ After that, though, I got angry and said we need to come back and do something. Luckily (Santamaria) put one in with a second left.”
About 58 seconds later, the game changed again. Instead of going into halftime holding a 1-0 lead and knowing they had the wind advantage in the second half, the Red Raiders were deflated when Shawnee scored with 1.1 seconds to go before the break. Darrin Doyle sent a ball in and Aiden Santamaria cleaned up a rebound, poking a shot into the lower right corner to tie the game, 1-1.
“That’s just what this team is about,” Jacob Santamaria said of the Renegades’ quick response. “We never let a bad play deter us. I knew we were going to come back and score (the tying goal). We’ve been doing that all year, and that’s why we’re in this position.”
“The wind was definitely a factor. I wouldn’t say that was a pretty soccer game by any stretch of the imagination. I was just talking to our middle school coach whose son used to play for us, and he’s seen us play a lot of games, and he said, ‘that was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen you guys play.’ Sometimes it’s just that kind of day and you have to win an ugly game,” said Shawnee coach Ryan Franks. “One of the things we hang our hats on is playing each play and living in the moment, and not giving away any minutes. There was less than a minute left when they scored — kind of against the play, as we were carrying (possession) a lot with the wind in that first half, and what a great strike from that kid, but our kids didn’t put their heads down for a second. We came right back down and scored, and instead of us hanging our heads at the half they had to be saying, ‘my gosh, I can’t believe we let them score with one second left!’ As much as you want to just play, it’s hard, we’re not robots. So I was proud of our boys for responding.
“(Beloshapka’s) shot was a pill, but our guys kept grinding and working. We had a ton of set pieces, a ton of corners, a ton of throws and service into the box. To some degree it was a numbers game and we got enough of them in there to where we put a couple in,” Franks added. “I was very proud of my guys’ response there at the end of the first half, and really throughout the whole game. Hats off to Ocean City, that’s a great team over there and they worked their butts off. That was a battle.”
Second-seeded Shawnee (13-2-3, 4-0-2 Olympic American) had the better of the possession throughout most of the game, but neither team had any real scoring threats in the second half, a testament to the defensive capabilities of each team.
“I thought Kai (Lindsay, of Ocean City) was very good in in the middle of the field, and the big kid up top (Wade Hudak), they were both a handful. A big, fast kid like that at striker, you think he’s just going to go to goal, but he connects with his teammates and creates for others. They were definitely a handful today. I thought our backs did a great job of defending in groups and trying to stay in our shape to limit their chances,” Franks said. “We probably had more of the scoring opportunities and more of the possession, even though it wasn’t pretty possession. I was proud of the way our boys grinded out this game and dealt with a tough opponent like that.”
It looked as though Ocean City (14-7, 9-3 Cape-Atlantic League American) was going to clear that corner kick in overtime, but the wind only allowed the clearance to go about 20 yards, and Jake Wheeler was there to send a volley back into the box. Before anybody even realized what was happening, Jacob Santamaria was diving past Raiders goalie Eddie Fuller and sending home the game-winner.
“I thought the goalie was going to stop it at first,” said Albert, “then I saw Jacob diving in there and I was like, ‘that better go in!’ It went in and it was nonstop screaming. It feels amazing. We were here last year and lost, so we’re hungry for it this year.”
Explained Santamaria, “I just saw the ball pop out to Jake and I was just praying he whipped it back in. Whether I was offsides or not, I just dove for it. I saw the referee didn’t raise her flag and I just thought, ‘oh, my God, what a win!’ There aren’t too many words to describe this moment.”
Last fall, Shawnee lost in the sectional final in a shootout against Cherry Hill West. This time around, the Renegades want to bring the trophy back to Medford.
“Now we have to turn our focus to Clearview, which has probably been the best team in South Jersey this year,” Franks said. “They won the Coaches Cup — they have just been grinding out wins. We haven’t seen them yet this year but I know Dodd (Terry) does a great job over there having them ready.”
Added Santamaria, “I felt like we had the better of the play throughout the game, so when it went to overtime I just thought we needed one chance and we would come home with the win. We just have to keep working. We lost (in the finals) last year so we’re all hungry this year. We want to bring it home.”
WHAT’S NEXT: No. 2 Shawnee at No. 1 Clearview, Saturday at 2 p.m. Ocean City’s season is complete.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays