Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Group Semifinal Preview
NJSIAA Group Semifinals
Group III Semifinal
At Toms River North, 7:30 p.m.
Toms River South (16-3-2) vs. Mainland (18-2-2)
The southern side of the Group III semifinal pits two teams with strong defensive showings in the state tournament against one another. Mainland did not give up a goal in the tournament until Hammonton scored against the Mustangs in the sectional final. Toms River South, meanwhile, has not allowed a goal since Long Branch scored in the 61st minute of the opening round, a game the Indians survived in a round of penalty kicks. Toms River South went on to pitch three straight shutouts to close out the Central Jersey Group III championship in pursuit of a second straight trip to the Group III final.
Keeping opponents out of the net has been Mainland's M.O. all season. Goalkeeper Matt Stelletano has 14 shutouts to his credit this season, including nine straight from Sept. 20 to Oct. 13. Only twice have the Mustangs allowed more than a goal in a game - a 5-4 win over South Jersey Group IV champion Washington Township and a 3-0 loss to the other South Jersey IV finalist, Rancocas Valley.
Although Toms River South and goalkeeper Dom Pizzi have recorded fewer shutouts (10) than Mainland, the Indians are just as much a defensive team. They have allowed just 15 goals in 21 games and have not allowed more than two in any one match, which they did four times.
The two teams share one common opponent and logged similar results against that opponent. Mainland beat Central Regional in penalty kicks after a scoreless draw in the South Jersey Group III semifinals and Toms River South held Central scoreless in two regular-season meeting - one 1-0 win and a 0-0 tie.
Mainland has another connection to the Shore Conference as well. Coach John Napoli is the brother of Fred Napoli, the head coach at Middletown North. Fred guided the Lions to the North Jersey Section 2 Group III final, where they lost to Hopewell Valley.
Prediction: Toms River South, 1-0. The Indians get by on experience and physicality against a Mainland team that is navigating uncharted waters as a program.
Group I Semifinal
At Haddonfield, 7:30 p.m.
Asbury Park (18-3-1) vs. Haddon Twp. (18-3-1)
For the first time in 35 years, Asbury Park is gearing up for an NJSIAA group semifinal game. The Blue Bishops overcame opening-minute injuries to goalkeeper Joey Johnson and outside defender Shown Narcisse to beat Palmyra, 1-0, in the Central Jersey Group I final on Thursday - the program's first sectional championship since 1981.
If the good news is that Asbury Park overcame the adversity of losing its standout keeper, the bad news is the Blue Bishops will have to do it again. According to Asbury Park coach Jean Dortissant, Johnson sustained a broken jaw when he collided with Narcisse in the third minute Thursday and is out for the season. Narcisse suffered from a cut above his left eye that required stitches.
In Johnson's absence, junior outside midfielder Widmaier Beaubrun moved into net and performed well for the Blue Bishops in the sectional final. Asbury Park was able to play a more defensive formation in that game because Fenelson Etienne scored the game's lone goal 5:05 into the match, so Asbury would like to follow a similar script against Haddon Township.
Speaking of the Hawks, the South Jersey Group I champs had a season similar to Asbury in that they were also 18-3-1 and beat up on lesser teams while occasionally wading into deeper water to test themselves. Their biggest challenge this season was against Williamstown - the No. 2 seed in South Jersey Group IV - and the Braves handled Haddon, 3-0, in the South Jersey Coaches Tournament.
Prediction: Haddon, 2-1. The loss of Johnson requires the Bishops to take a good player out of the field and has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the formation. The Bishops will need big guns Davensky JoinVilmar, Fenelson Etienne and Ronald JeanVilma to be excellent to continue the dream season.