LAKEWOOD - The Lacey boys soccer team graduated its top two goal-scorers from a high-scoring squad in 2017 but that has not mattered this season for a few reasons, two of which were evident in Thursday's Shore Conference Class B South game against undefeated Lakewood.

The first is its vastly-improved defense. The other is junior forward Sean Moffitt.

Lacey and goalkeeper Ryan Giles turned in their sixth shutout and Moffitt scored his team-high eighth goal in the 61st minute as Lacey handed Lakewood its first loss, 1-0, while winning its seventh straight.

Lacey junior Sean Moffitt. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Lakewood entered Thursday averaging 4.25 goals per game but could not piece together much of a threat against Lacey's pressure during the 80 minute struggle. The Piners labored for four shots, two of which were on target while Lacey put three of 11 shots on goal.

The one that made the difference came off the right foot of Moffitt and was the product of a hustle play in the Lakewood third of the field. The junior forward stole the ball off the foot of a Piners defender, touched it toward the goal and fired a low strike to the far left corner midway through the second half to break a scoreless deadlock that had few dangerous chances to that point.

"They (Lakewood) were making mistakes in the back," Moffitt said. "I just knew I had to keep working because at some point they were going to make another one and I was going to get a chance."

Moffitt has emerged as the complement to senior midfielder Kip Byrne, who returned as the most accomplished offensive player the Lions had and has authored a career that stacks up with some of Lacey's top midfielders ever. Earlier this season, Byrne became the program's all-time leader in assists, passing current Shore Regional head coach Christian Pontier. Byrne collected 17 assists last season and already has six this season to go with seven goals.

With graduated forwards Riley Hunt and Kevin Miller combining for 27 goals last year, the emergence of Moffitt has been a necessity and while he has come out of virtually nowhere after not playing on the high school team as a sophomore, his success has not been a surprise to anyone on the Lacey sideline. According to Lacey coach Steve Torre, Moffitt has grown nearly a foot since his freshman year to reach his current six-foot stature.

"We knew what he could do," Byrne said. "This wasn't unexpected. We all thought he was going to score a lot of goals."

Lacey senior Kip Byrne (right) challenges Lakewood senior Giovanni Hernandez. (Photo by Matt Manley)

With Byrne and Moffitt leading the way, the Lions have scored 29 goals during their seven-game winning streak, which began after a 3-0 opening-day loss to Pinelands. While the four-plus goals-per-game average stands out for a team that lost 36 of its 42 goals from last year, the one goal allowed over that seven-game stretch is even more noteworthy. Last year, the Lions surrendered 38 goals in 21 games.

"We were a more talented team last year, but this year's team has a lot of defensive-minded guys," Byrne said. "We only have two real forwards but we have a bunch of guys who like to apply pressure and play their roles and we're making it work for us."

After Moffitt's tie-breaker, Lakewood manufactured its best opportunity when senior Giovanni Hernandez played the ball to senior Josh Lemus on the right post and the Piners striker nailed an open, close-range shot wide of the near bar.

In the final two minutes, Lemus headed the ball over the back line for classmate junior Bravo, who got hit in the back and knocked to the ground by Giles as the two were going after the ball. After lying on the ground for several seconds, Bravo got up and said something to one of the officials and was issued a straight red card, leaving Lakewood a man down for the final minute two minutes.

Bravo - a senior captain and the team's center midfielder - will now miss Lakewood's next two games, the second of which is a home game against Pinelands, the first place team in Class B South.

Lacey, meanwhile, will travel Friday to play a Southern side that is winless in its last three (0-3-1) after starting 4-0. If the Lions can get past that game, they will have a chance to reach the Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting on Oct. 11 with a double-digit winning streak. Their final three games before the cutoff are against teams with a losing record.

"We came into the season with a lot of new starters, so it took us a few games to figure out our roles," Byrne said. "We knew we were going to get better as the season went on. Now, we just have to keep trying to get better."

 

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