Oakcrest High School boys soccer coach Joseph Seaman knows his young team has a bright future.
On Wednesday, he got an early glimpse of what the season could bring for the Falcons.
The scoring chances were in Oakcrest’s favor in its 2-1 victory over Ocean City in a Cape-Atlantic League National Division matchup. It was the Falcons’ first win against Ocean City since Oct. 25, 2012, snapping a 0-7-1 drought.
“I think this sets the tone for the season going forward,” said Seaman, whose team improves to 4-0. “It puts us on the radar. We know we have a target on our back, so we have to keep working hard.”
The Falcons got their goals from sophomore forward Mason Stokes and sophomore midfielder Gabe Paz. Senior goalie Jack Markley made 10 saves, backing a defense that did a good job at minimizing Ocean City’s scoring chances.
Stokes, a 15-year-old Mays Landing resident, is one of the Cape-Atlantic League’s most exciting young players. The 6-foot-1 sophomore is more than just a big player. He has the speed to match his size, and he displayed that in the 15th minute.
After a long feed from Michael O’Brien down the right sideline, Stokes beat a defender to the corner. He fought off a double-team and hit a left-footed shot into the upper left part of the net to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
“I knew that if I scored a big goal early in the game and put us ahead, it would give us momentum moving forward,” Stokes said. “I always try my best, work hard and try to get it into the back of the net.”
Oakcrest built a 2-0 lead 10 minutes into the second half.
O’Brien’s header deflected off the left hand of Ocean City goalie Garrett Vliet (12 saves in the loss). The ball went straight to Paz, who fired it into the top left corner.
“That’s what we have to do to win,” said Paz, 15, of Mays Landing. “We work hard and we make sure we get our goals.”
Ocean City upped its pressure in the second half, adding an extra man to the attack as the time wound down. But each time, Markley was able to make a save, stopping six shots in the second half, including a diving one-handed stop near the post in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
The chances were there for Ocean City, who despite getting the ball inside the penalty area, couldn’t finish its chances. It showed the veteran presence they were missing with top-scoring juniors Luke Varallo and Matt Brooke, both expected to miss several weeks with injuries.
“I feel like we did generate chances today,” said Ocean City coach Aaron Bogushefsky. “We cranked one off the cross bar, hit one right at (Markley), hit one right over (the net). It wasn’t like chances didn’t happen. It’s just like they didn’t go in today. And that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
In the final minute, the Red Raiders got on the board when junior Athanasi Koutsfetsoulis cleaned up a loose ball during a scramble in front of the net. Even after the final 22 seconds of the game ran out, the Oakcrest players were visibly upset after allowing their first goal of the season in nearly 320 minutes of play.
That expectation of success this early in the season is a welcomed sight, said Seaman, who added, “they want a clean sheet every time on the field.”
“We know we have things to work on, and we felt pressure the last 20. We’re going to focus in on those last 20 minutes in what we did wrong, and we’re going to improve and just keep working forward.”