Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Tournament Quarterfinal Outlook
The first round of the NJSIAA Tournament is typically the first real chance to see how the entirety of the Shore Conference measures up to the rest of the state and after Monday and Tuesday’s slate of 29 games featuring 33 teams from the Shore, it appears this might be an especially good year for Monmouth and Ocean County (F.Y.I., Allentown and New Egypt also advanced and are playing Shore Conference teams on Thursday.
Coming off a 2015 season in which five teams won a sectional title and three reached state finals, the bar is pretty high and to this point, the conference is on pace to reach that bar. Overall, the Shore Conference went 21-12 in the first round – 18-11-4 accounting for ties that led to penalty kicks. Four of the Shore teams that were eliminated on Monday lost to other Shore Conference teams and only one of the 12 teams that bowed out of the tournament (Manasquan) lost at home.
With CBA and Donovan Catholic both enjoying first-round byes in the South Jersey Non-Public A bracket, there are still 23 Shore Conference teams still playing, which is exactly half the conference. Only two of Thursday’s sectional quarterfinal games pits Shore teams against one another, so there’s a chance a whole slew of are teams are playing into next week. Here is a look at how the 10 sections with Shore Conference teams are looking heading into Thursday.
North Jersey 2, Group III
Neither of the Shore teams in this field technically won its game on Monday, but No. 6 Middletown North did advance with a 4-2 victory in a shootout over Chatham after a 0-0 tie. The Lions have run hot-and-cold scoring goals this season and they could not find the net on Monday, but they continue to keep the ball out of the net thanks to goalkeeper Scott Weigel and senior defenders Jordan Stratton and Jeff King. Last year, Middletown North edged Chatham in the first round and went on to reach the section semifinals as the No. 6 seed – a feat they can accomplish again with a win at Orange on Thursday.
No. 14 Red Bank Regional, meanwhile, bowed out, 4-0, at West Windsor-Plainsboro North. The Knights have had a strong year in Mercer County and reached the Central Jersey Group III final last year, when they lost to Ocean in overtime.
Central Jersey Group IV
As of the start of play Thursday, no Class A North team has lost a postseason game except to another A North team. No. 15 Manalapan did not qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament and advanced past No. 2 Princeton on Monday; No. 14 Colts Neck was eliminated by CBA in the SCT and No. 3 Marlboro on Monday; No. 8 Freehold Township was eliminated by Marlboro in the SCT and beat No. 9 Montgomery handily on Monday; Marlboro lost to CBA in the SCT final and escaped Colts Neck in overtime on Monday and CBA has not lost a postseason game.
A North’s dominance this season will be put to the test when both Freehold Township and Manalapan go on the road on Thursday in pursuit of a spot in the sectional semifinals. The Braves tied one of the state’s top public school program’s and beat them in a round of penalty kicks to advance to the quarterfinals – an affirmation of A North’s quality considering the Braves could not get to the .500 mark in the division before the SCT cutoff. They will have to go up Rt. 9 and beat No. 10 Old Bridge to keep it going, while Freehold Township looks to knock off No. 1 Hunterdon Central.
The story of the day Monday was P.J. Ringel’s performance in Marlboro’s 3-2 overtime win over Colts Neck in the face of tragedy. One day after the sudden passing of his father, Ringel scored two goals – including the overtime winner – to lead the Mustangs to a thrilling, emotional win. Ringel is not a certainty to play on Thursday and while that takes some firepower off the field for Marlboro, the Mustangs are equipped to handle one game without their leading scorer because of how solid the rest of the lineup is, as well as the ability of forwards Brett Easton and Varaz Tapuzyan off the bench.
Central Jersey Group III
The section with the most Shore Conference teams in the field has one team in each of the quarterfinal games on Thursday, so the possibility of an All-Shore semifinals is very much in play. The top three seeds in the field are all from the Shore Conference and all three will be in for challenges on Thursday. No. 1 Ocean will host No. 8 Allentown – a program with a lot of recent success that has had a relatively down year but has faced good competition.
The same goes for both No. 3 Wall and No. 2 Toms River South, who also play sub-.500 teams that could do damage. No. 6 Moorestown travels to Wall coming off a solid 3-1 win over a previously-hot Lakewood team, while Toms River South hosts a No. 10 Steinert side that rallied to reach the Mercer County Tournament semifinals after a slow start to the season. A sub-plot of that game is that Toms River South coach Ed Leibe starred for Steinert back in some of the program’s best seasons in the early 1980’s.
The other Shore team in the semifinals is Brick, which entered the field as a No. 12 seed and pulled out a huge 3-2 overtime win at No. 5 Northern Burlington. Coach Tom Frazitta is in his second season at the helm and that win, plus the experience of playing in a sectional quarterfinal will be significant for the growth of a program that has been down for a number of years now. The Green Dragons have a great chance to advance to the semifinals as well, as they travel to play a No. 4 Burlington Township team with a sub-.500 record.
Central Jersey Group II
Like Central Jersey IV, an all-Shore semifinal is in play in Central Jersey Group II. More than that, No. 3 Matawan, No. 9 Holmdel, No. 10 Raritan and No. 13 Rumson-Fair Haven can make it an all-A-Central affair if all four advance. The likelihood of that seems a little less palatable than it is in B North because Holmdel will have to beat No. 1 South Plainfield and Raritan travels to No. 2 Bernards.
Raritan will face its toughest challenge of its renaissance season when the Rockets travel to play a Bernards team that might be the best in the section. The Rockets played a soft schedule outside of Class A Central, but two games against a quality Matawan team – both ties – are a sign that Raritan is ready to compete in this one.
Rumson had a forgettable season before the start of this week and now the Bulldogs have a chance to end this disappointing regular season with a memorable playoff run. Rumson has played a tougher schedule than Spotswood has, so this might be a more even game than the seeds indicate.
Matawan and Holmdel are the teams that have looked the part of sectional title contenders at different points this season. Matawan will host No. 6 New Providence after getting by the first round by a score of 1-0, while Holmdel will have to find a way past No. 1 South Plainfield – which won the Group III championship in 2014.
Central Jersey Group I
Top-seeded Asbury Park faced elimination a lot sooner than it likely anticipated when the Blue Bishops went into overtime with No. 16 Middlesex on Monday before prevailing, 1-0. They’ll now have to face a fairly battle-tested New Egypt team as they try to regain their midseason form. If the Blue Bishops win Thursday against a New Egypt and reach the sectional semifinals, that would be a pretty significant accomplishment for a program that has not been this deep into the tournament in a while and has a large contingent of players coming back.
No. 6 Shore is a potential bracket-buster as the tournament advanced into the later rounds because of the tougher schedule the Blue Devils played this season. Thursday opponent No. 3 Palmyra and potential semifinal opponent No. 2 Florence have both had strong seasons, but Shore is always a threat in this bracket and their schedule has prepared the Blue Devils for this potential run of road games.
South Jersey Group IV
No. 7 Toms River North was the lone survivor in the first round of the South Jersey Group IV first round and the Mariners eliminated fellow A South school, Southern in advancing. After its 3-0 win over the Rams, Toms River North has now scored 11 postseason goals between the SCT and NJSIAA Tournaments and seven of those goals have come on long throws by Joe Swanton. After opening the year as the starting goalkeeper, Swanton has become an offensive weapon that could make the Mariners a threat to some of the bracket’s top teams. The Mariners will play No. 2 Williamstown on Thursday and will likely be road warriors as long as they can keep advancing.
South Jersey Group III
Two Shore Conference teams are still alive in South Jersey III and that number will fall to one on Thursday because they are playing one another. No. 2 Pinelands will host No. 7 Central Regional and the hosts will again be without 32-goal scorer Matt O’Connell, who is out for the remainder of the season with a back injury. Although O’Connell did a majority of the finishing for Pinelands during the regular season, the Wildcats have played well without him. They lost to SCT runner-up Marboro, 1-0, in the SCT round of 16 and after a 2-0 win over Brick in a tune-up game, they routed Gloucester Tech, 6-2, in Monday’s opening round.
Central, meanwhile, shutout No. 10 Lacey 3-0 in the second meeting between the Ocean County schools this season and will bring a senior-laden roster south to take on a relatively familiar foe. Although the two teams have not met this year, they were division rivals in Class B South last year, before Central moved to Class A South this season.
South Jersey Group II
The bracket set up for a potential rematch of last year’s sectional quarterfinal between No. 3 Point Boro and No. 6 Manasquan, but the Warriors were knocked off at home by No. 11 Collingswood, which now travels to Point Boro on Thursday. The Panthers are looking to reach an elusive sectional final and will face an opponent it should beat on Thursday before a big potential trip to No. 2 Middle Township if both can win.
South Jersey Non-Public A
Three Shore Conference teams remain in this bracket, which appears to be a competition to see who can reach the finals and try to upset CBA. The top-seeded Colts host No. 9 St. John Vianney, which advanced to the sectional quarterfinals by winning just its third game of the season – a 2-1 win over Camden Catholic. The two Monmouth County teams will meet for the fifth straight year in the state tournament, with CBA winning the last three meetings after St. John Vianney beat the Colts in 2012.
No. 3 Donovan Catholic earned a bye in the first round despite a 7-9-3 record and will take on a Notre Dame team that is also under .500 – as are four of the 10 teams that began this tournament. The Griffins showed some penchant for postseason play when they went to Asbury Park as the No. 23 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament and took the Blue Bishops to penalty kicks.
South Jersey Non-Public B
Last year, No. 8 Ranney beat No. 3 St. Rose in a penalty kick, quarterfinal classic to earn, arguably, the biggest result in the history of the program. That state playoff run ended against Holy Cross and this year’s quarterfinal game will be tougher than either of those games. No. 1 Gill St. Bernard’s has been a top 20 team in the state for most of the year and is the overwhelming favorite to win the sectional title this year. The Panthers, however, were sharp in a 5-1 win over No. 9 Trenton Catholic on Monday and will look to ride that wave into Thursday as they look for the upset.
St. Rose has a senior-heavy roster that the Purple Roses hope will spearhead a run to the sectional final. In order to get there, St. Rose will have to get by 2015 sectional runner-up Holy Cross, which visits Belmar on Thursday.