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Jan 05, 2022

Pentikis Brothers Still Celebrating Following NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II Championship

By Tim Morris

It was instinctive. All that Rumson-Fair Haven’s Alec Pentikis remembers about his golden goal was his kick eluding the out-stretched arms of Holmdel’s goalie and into the upper corner of the goal.

“It’s hard to describe,” the forward said. “It happened so fast.”

For the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School boys’ soccer program, Pentikis’ goal was a long time coming. The 2-1 win over Holmdel was one coach Jeff Soares labeled “program defining” because it lifted Rumson to its first-ever NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship.

“We did something very special.” Soares noted.

Alec Pentikis’ older brother, Luke, a senior captain, said being the first Rumson team to win the CJ championship was “what we were working for.”

The program had come a long way since Soares took over three falls ago, but as Luke explained, “We had improved, but we never won anything. It was important to finally win something.”

In fact, the Bulldogs won two championships in 2021. During the regular season, they claimed the Shore Conference A Central Division title. As Luke pointed out, the state sectional was what the team was really taking aim at.

Rumson couldn’t have gone into the tournament with less momentum, having lost four of five matches. That didn’t worry Soares, however. He had the team playing quality competition against teams that were state playoff bound. The goal was to have the Bulldogs battled tested and for Luke Pentikis and Antonio Santos who, because of injuries had not played together often during the regular season, time to mesh.

Rumson started its playoff run with a 5-1 win over Spotswood. In the quarterfinals, the team survived Governor Livingston in a shoot-out after the two sides tied at 1-1. Rumson won the shoot-out 4-2 to advance.

Luke pointed out that in the previous two seasons, Rumson’s playoff run had ended in the second round. Getting past the quarters, he said, made the team feel that something special was happening.

The Rumson train kept on rolling in the semifinals, beating South River, 3-0, to advance to its first-ever sectional final which, would be played at home. The opponent would be the team that had owned them and had dominated conference soccer for the last few years: Holmdel. Rumson had beaten Holmdel during the regular season to secure the division title, but now they had to do it again, ghosts and all, to win the CJ II championship. 

Santos, converting a feed from Luke Pentikis, gave RFH a 1-0 lead in the second half. Less than 10 minutes later, though, Holmdel tied it on an own goal, and the match ended tied 1-1 after regulation. Considering RFH’s past with Holmdel, it would have been easy for doubts to set in, but Rumson stayed steadfast.

“We knew we had to push that extra bit,” said Luke Pentikis. “Overtime comes down to who wants it more.”

Alec Pentikis, who led the Hornets in scoring in the playoffs, said the Bulldogs knew what they had to do, keep the pressure on.

“We regrouped,” he explained. “We were the more aggressive team in overtime. My attitude late in the game and overtime is, ‘You have to take whatever chances you get.’”

That chance came in the 94th minute of the match when Alec took a pass from Ronan Hogg just outside the box on the right side of the pitch and one-timed it toward the outside post. He watched as it soared past the Hornets’ keeper into the upper corner of the goal – and just like that, the Bulldogs were the Central Jersey champions.

Alec said winning the sectional was something he and Luke had talked about over the years, and they helped deliver it. The game ball that Alec scored the golden goal with resides in the Pentikis household as a reminder of what the brothers can achieve.

Soares spoke for the team when he said that it was extra sweet to beat Holmdel for the crown. The Hornets were the team they had been chasing, and now that they finally broke through in 2021, the two teams are rivals.

“To beat them twice in one year for the division and state sectional made it special,” said Soares. “They’ve been a thorn in our side.”

Having the match at home made was a bonus for Rumson.

“The fans were absolutely electric. They gave [the players] momentum,” noted Soares.

Although the season ended where no Rumson team had ever been before, in the State Group semifinals (a 6-2 loss to Delran), did not dampen what the 2021 Bulldogs accomplished.

“We did some very special things,” said Soares.

Rumson, which finished 11-6-3, has a bright future, Soares pointed, out with 21 players returning in 2022. Not only will they have game experience but, more importantly, championship experience.