Boys Soccer – Lakewood Earns SCT Spot With Win Over Donovan Catholic
LAKEWOOD - The 2016 version of the Lakewood boys soccer team does not have any seniors in its starting lineup, but it doesn't take experienced players to figure out the best way to go from playing poorly to playing well is to get the best player on the team the ball.
Through seven games this season, the Piners were 1-6 and junior midfielder Anthony Calixto did not yet have a goal to his credit. Once Calixto became a scoring threat again, so did Lakewood.
Calixto scored for the 11th time in five games with a 22-yard toe-strike to the upper 90 Friday - the highlight in Lakewood's 2-0 win over Donovan Catholic. The win was the fifth straight and eighth in the last 10 games for the Piners, who qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament with the result.
"This is a young group and it took them time to learn the speed of the high school game," longtime Lakewood coach Gene Drumright said. "Sometimes I think it helps us that we're so young because we've been in some of these games, and they don't even know what's at stake. They just go out and play and they can play. These guys have skill."
With a postseason berth riding on the result of Friday's game, Lakewood, jumped on top of the Griffins within the first four minutes. Sophomore sweeper Junior Bravo pushed forward on a corner kick and headed in the service from sophomore Gio Hernandez to set the early advantage.
Before adding the insurance goal, Lakewood got a boost from sophomore goalkeeper Moises Galvan, who made a pair of saves on dangerous chances by Donovan Catholic. The first of those saves was a potential breakaway by Griffins senior Matt Dalton, who broke free of the back line, but was turned away when Galvan charged out of the box and booted the ball away when Dalton tried to touch it past him.
In the 29th minute, Calixto extended his goal-scoring streak to five games with his strike. Freshman Nathanael Wharlton touched a ball from Hernandez out of the air and to Calixto knifing through the middle of the field. After separating from a defending, he unleashed a right-footed shot off of the top of his foot from beyond the top of the 18-yard box and sliced it into the upper right corner of the goal.
Calixto now has 14 goals this season and all of them have come during a 10-game stretch in which Lakewood has gone 8-2. While freshmen Jonathan Toichihuitl and Wharlton stepped up early in the season and kept the Piners competitive - three of their first six losses were by one goal and two were overtime losses - Calixto's goal-scoring was a missing ingredient.
"The freshmen were scoring a lot of our goals early in the year but I think they realized that we needed to get the ball to our best player," Drumright said. "It doesn't take experience to know you're supposed to try to give the ball to the best player. (Toichihuitl) scored a bunch of goals for us but he's taken a step back and become like our point guard out there and he's setting other guys up."
Bravo has also helped Lakewood's defense since permanently moving to the back. While the Piners did survive a shaky defensive game in a 6-4 win over Barnegat last week, they have turned around their goal prevention since the first seven games. During the 1-6 start, Lakewood allowed exactly three goals per game (21 overall) and in the 10 since have given up less than one per game (nine).
With Friday's win, Lakewood guaranteed itself a third-place in Class B South, which is the program's highest divisional finish since the Piners won Class B South in 2006. With just one senior on the roster and none in the starting lineup, this late-season run has a chance to launch the Piners to a banner 2017 season.
"It's been good to see these guys grow together and get the support from the school and the administration," Drumright said. "They like playing with each other and they play hard. You get that with some skill, especially with how young they are, there's a lot of potential there."