OCEAN CITY — When visiting Shawnee, the No. 2 seed in the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs, ripped off four straight first-half goals to take a 5-2 lead on top-seeded Ocean City in Monday’s title game at Carey Stadium, Red Raiders fans may have thought they were being set up for yet another heartbreak.

Two years ago this same Shawnee team rallied to beat Ocean City in the sectional semifinals, denying the Red Raiders their first opportunity to play for a South Jersey championship. In 2018, Ocean City lost 8-6 to Somerville as the Red Raiders were outscored 3-1 in the fourth quarter and eliminated in the quarterfinal round.

But years of heartbreak, of coming close but not quite being good enough to get over the hump; those tough playoff losses didn’t break the Red Raiders — they built this team into the champion it is today.

Ocean City shook off that early Shawnee rally on a sweltering Monday afternoon and answered with a heart-pounding six-goal run of its own to take a 7-5 lead, and eventually the Red Raiders outlasted the Renegades, 9-6, to capture the South Jersey Group 3 championship for the first time in program history. It’s the first title for coach Joe LaTorre, who took over the program in 2013 and won just four games in his rookie season.

Ocean City now takes on Chatham at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Shore Regional High School in Monmouth County for the overall Group 3 state championship.

“I’m bloody and bruised up, but it’s all worth it,” said senior midfielder Brady Rauner, who scored the ninth and final goal for Ocean City. “My sophomore year that was the same team that put us away and there is no better feeling than beating them. They beat us in football in the (2019) South Jersey Group 3 championship, so there is nothing better than getting money back on Shawnee and showing those Medford kids what we do down here in small little Ocean City.”

“I don’t even know what to say right now. It feels great. This is awesome. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt in my life,” added fellow senior Jake Schneider, who tallied a game-high four goals. “This makes up for everything we missed out on. Junior year, Shawnee beat us in the (football sectional) championship but this makes up for it, easily.”

Ocean City (13-6) jumped out to an early 2-1 lead, but a goal from Tyler Korchak with 7:06 left in the first half started a run of four straight Renegades goals that gave Shawnee a 5-2 lead. The Red Raiders were able to get one back with 41 seconds remaining before halftime on a tally by Schneider, and even though Ocean City trailed 5-3 at halftime, Rauner said the team was full of confidence. The Raiders’ defense, after all, had limited a very good Clearview team to just five goals in the semifinals.

“We went into the locker room down two and you would have thought we were up by two,” Rauner said. “Guys had energy, guys were flying around all pumped. They scored, what, one goal in the second half? Stuff just started clicking for us, we knew what we had to do and we just started going right away.”

The Ocean City defense, led by senior Jake Inserra, clamped down hard on Shawnee (11-7) in the second half, posting a scoreless third quarter and now allowing a goal until the final minute, when the game was well in hand. Ocean City goalie Gavin Jackson finished with seven saves in the victory.

“This is awesome. We have a ton of young guys (on defense) who stepped up today. There is a huge brotherhood aspect out there with this defense. We have seniors like Brady (Rauner) playing both ways, taking control, talking out there. Our coaches gave us a great game plan for defense, we followed it all the way through, and it worked out,” Inserra said. “Our team, we feed off energy. If one guy gets going, everybody gets behind him. Once we start clicking, there is no stopping us. Everybody feeds off each other, we all love each other, and once we get going everybody has each other’s backs.”

Jack Davis scored early in the third quarter to cut Shawnee’s lead to 5-4 and a minute later Schneider scored the equalizer, taking on two defenders and getting hit hard as he unleashed his shot. With 6:16 to go, Nick Volpe gave Ocean City the lead for good as his tally put the Red Raiders up, 6-5. Schneider and freshman sensation Pat Grimley both scored before the third quarter was done, and Ocean City carried an 8-5 lead into the final frame.

When Rauner scored with 6:19 remaining to put the Red Raiders up, 9-5, it was all but over.

The win put a cap on the careers of a solid group of seniors, led by Rauner, Inserra and Schneider, who have been playing lacrosse together since they were youngsters.

“I’ve been playing with Brady (Rauner) and Jake Inserra since third grade, with Dan Reeves since sixth grade,” Schneider said. “I’ve known coach LaTorre since I came out of the womb. It feels so good to win this with my best friends. I knew this was coming. We made sure this happened.”

“This has been four years in the making, and not just for years for some of us. Me, Raunder and Schneider have been playing together since second grade and we’ve been dreaming about this for years. And for it all together here in our last home game, this is what we’ve been working for our whole life,” Inserra added. “This is the best achievement we could have gotten. Our last game on this field, where we put so much work in, it’s the final closure for everything. There’s no better feeling and I’m just really happy with how it all went.”

Said Rauner, “This is the last time playing lacrosse for a lot of these guys. We have guys going to college to play football, or just going to college, but they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives. This is the best feeling in Ocean City sports I’ve ever had in my life, and I’m just really happy to bring this to our city. Everybody is like, ‘oh, Ocean City isn’t a lacrosse school.’ But, hey, we’re a lacrosse school now.”

What’s next: Ocean City vs. Chatham for the Group 3 state championship on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Shore Regional High School. Shawnee’s season is complete.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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