Four Shore Conference teams venture into a challenging Central Jersey Group IV bracket, Point Beach tries to slay Highland Park in Group I, Holmdel looks to repeat as the heavy favorite in Group II and the Shore has overwhelming odds in favor of bringing home a championship in Group III. All that, plus more in a preview of the Central Jersey brackets in the NJSIAA Tournament, which kicks off on Monday.

 

Central Jersey Group IV

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 7 Freehold Twp., No. 10 Marlboro, No. 14 Middletown South
Defending Champion: No. 13 Princeton
Top Seed: Hunterdon Central
Favorite: Hunterdon Central. The Red Devils have run roughshod over this section in recent years, although Princeton dethroned them last year by winning in Flemington in the sectional final. Once again, the road to the Central Jersey Group IV title will go through Hunterdon Central, although that road looks especially treacherous this time around. Potential quarterfinal opponent Monroe has been surging lately, while both West Windsor schools are in the middle of special seasons. That makes no mention of Princeton, which is lurking at No. 13 and could be poised for a breakout postseason after a disappointing season to date. No. 3 Hillsborough looks like the favorite to survive the other half of the bracket but might have to get through South Brunswick on the road to get a crack at a sectional final.
Darkhorse: No. 12 West Windsor-Plainsboro South. The Pirates reached the Mercer County Tournament final and will try to carry that momentum into the state tournament. A first-round win at New Brunswick could mean a rivalry game vs. West Windsor North but a home game against Princeton could also be a possibility. On the bottom half of the bracket, Freehold Township has been erratic this season but has the sort of pedigree that could threaten South Brunswick and Hillsborough should the Patriots survive a first-round date with Class A North rival Marlboro. Middletown South is also intriguing given its impressive strength of schedule so Hillsborough won’t be able to coast through the first round.

Chris Orrico (left) and Bennett Messinger (right) celebrate a goal by Orrico. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Round-by-Round Predictions

(1) Hunterdon Central over (16) Sayreville

(8) Monroe over (9) Manalapan

(12) West Windsor-Plainsboro South over (5) New Brunswick

(4) West Windsor-Plainsboro North over (13) Princeton

(3) Hillsborough over (14) Middletown South

(6) East Brunswick over (11) North Brunswick

(7) Freehold Twp. over (10) Marlboro

(2) South Brunswick over (15) Edison

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Hunterdon Central over (8) Monroe

(4) West Windsor-Plainsboro North over (12) West Windsor-Plainsboro South

(3) Hillsborough over (6) East Brunswick

(7) Freehold Twp. over (2) South Brunswick

 

Semifinals

(1) Hunterdon Central over (4) West Windsor-Plainsboro North

(3) Hillsborough over (7) Freehold Twp.

 

Championship

(3) Hillsborough over (1) Hunterdon Central

 

Central Jersey Group III

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Neptune, No. 2 Ocean, No. 3 Wall, No. 5 Colts Neck, No. 7 Lakewood, No. 8 Freehold Boro, No. 12 Brick, No. 14 Middletown North, No. 16 Red Bank
Defending Champion: Toms River South (now in South Jersey)
Top Seed: Neptune
Favorite: Ocean. In a section packed with Shore Conference teams, it makes sense that a Shore Conference team should be favored to win it. Ocean is coming off a stunning run to the Shore Conference Tournament championship and while gearing back up for another tournament is never that easy, the Spartans will have had plenty of time off and are looking at one or two winnable games to open up the tournament. Neptune is the top seed but could not beat either Ocean nor Wall during the regular season and stubbed its toe a few times as well. They are an explosive team with Wilby Alfred up top and could get a chance at redemption in the second round if they face a Northern Burlington team that beat them in the first round last year.
Darkhorse: No. 11 Hopewell Valley. The Bulldogs have been a Group II contender in recent years out of North Jersey Section 2, including back in 2016 when they won that section. This year has not gone as smoothly for Hopewell, but it is still a formidable opponent and competitive enough to make a run. Middletown North is also an interesting possibility for a surprise team given its spurt of strong outings a few weeks back but Wall has designs of making a deep run. Colts Neck will have a difficult quarterfinal game but the Cougars have competed with just about every opponent they have faced and would be a real threat to reach the final if they can survive Steinert.

 

Round-by-Round Predictions

First Round

(1) Neptune over (16) Red Bank

(9) Northern Burlington over (8) Freehold Boro

(5) Colts Neck over (12) Brick

(4) Steinert over (5) Hamilton West

(3) Wall over (14) Middletown North

(11) Hopewell Valley over (6) Allentown

(7) Lakewood over (10) Burlington Twp.

(2) Ocean over (15) Nottingham

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Neptune over (9) Northern Burlington

(4) Steinert over (5) Colts Neck

(11) Hopewell Valley over (3) Wall

(2) Ocean over (7) Lakewood

 

Semifinals

(4) Steinert over (1) Neptune

(2) Ocean over (11) Hopewell Valley

 

Championship

(2) Ocean over (4) Steinert

Ocean senior Zach Sintic (right) battles Holmdel's Anthony Arena. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Central Jersey Group II

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Holmdel, No. 6 Raritan, No. 11 Monmouth, No. 14 Shore
Defending Champion: Holmdel
Top Seed: Holmdel
Favorite: Holmdel. It’s hard to find a team that is a better lock to win a sectional title than Holmdel. Not only are the Hornets the most talented team in the section, but they will be foaming at the mouth to get back into big games after getting knocked out of the Shore Conference Tournament vs. Ocean on penalties. Remember, last year the Hornets barely escaped the sectional semifinals vs. Matawan on penalties and went on to play three outstanding games to wrap up a Group II title. Either South Plainfield or Governor Livingston should be good for a battle in the sectional semifinals while the Delaware Valley-vs.-Raritan winner in the sectional quarterfinal looks poised to be opposing Holmdel come Nov. 8.
Darkhorse: No. 10 Carteret. Governor Livingston and Voorhees both fit the description better than Carteret does but Carteret would not have to see Holmdel until the championship game. Roselle is not a dominant No. 2 so if the Ramblers survive the first round vs. Spotswood, they will have a chance to reach the semifinals. Raritan remains intriguing after its strong showing in the SCT but will have to survive a first-round test against Class A Central rival Monmouth. Shore has also shown promise at times this season, but the Blue Devils look like they are a year or two away from making noise into November.

 

Round-by-Round Predictions

(1) Holmdel over (16) Hillside

(8) Metuchen over (9) Robbinsville

(5) South Plainfield over (12) Governor Livingston

(13) Voorhees over (4) Rahway

(3) Delaware Valley over (14) Shore

(6) Raritan over (11) Monmouth

(10) Carteret over (7) Spotswood

(2) Roselle over (15) A.L. Johnson

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Holmdel over (8) Metuchen

(5) South Plainfield over (13) Voorhees

(3) Delaware Valley over (6) Raritan

(10) Carteret over (2) Roselle

 

Semifinals

(1) Holmdel over (5) South Plainfield

(3) Delaware Valley over (10) Carteret

 

Championship

(1) Holmdel over (3) Delaware Valley

 

Central Jersey Group I

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 8 Point Beach, No. 16 Henry Hudson
Defending Champion: No. 1 Highland Park
Top Seed: Highland Park
Favorite: Highland Park. The Owls overwhelmed the competition en route to their first sectional championship last year and there is enough left over to author a similar run this time around. Point Beach could run into Highland Park in the quarterfinals, which makes for a tough draw for the Garnet Gulls. Point Beach came into the season with high hopes for this tournament and appears to be hitting its peak, so why not try to spring an upset early on?
Darkhorse: No. 6 New Egypt. The Central Jersey I bracket has been more stable than usual in recent years so a double-digit seed making a deep run really would be unforeseen. With that being the case, New Egypt is a dangerous No. 6 and will likely be looking at a rivalry game against Florence in the quarterfinals to keep the dream alive. Manville lost to Point Beach, 7-3, during the season so it would appear New Egypt has a great shot to win a pair of road games and reach the sectional final.

 

Round-by-Round Predictions

First Round

(1) Highland Park over (16) Henry Hudson

(8) Point Beach over (9) Middlesex

(5) Bound Brook over (12) Roselle Park

(4) Riverside over (13) Stem Civics

(3) Florence over (14) Edison Academy

(6) New Egypt over (11) South Hunterdon

(7) Piscataway Tech over (10) Woodbridge Academy

(2) Manville over (15) Burlington City

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Highland Park over (8) Point Beach

(5) Bound Brook over (4) Riverside

(6) New Egypt over (3) Florence

(2) Manville over (7) Piscataway Tech

 

Semifinals

(1) Highland Park over (5) Bound Brook

(6) New Egypt over (2) Manville

 

Championship

(1) Highland Park over (6) New Egypt

 

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