Boys Soccer – SCT Opening Round Picks
(25) Asbury Park at (8) Freehold Township, 3 p.m.
The Blue Bishops were on the cusp of a first-round upset last year until they lost their cool and took two red cards while leading Toms River North 2-0, only to end up losing 3-2. Composure will be key in this game, not just for Asbury Park, but for Freehold Township as well. Asbury Park will come at them just as the Bishops did against Toms River North last season and Freehold Township will have to be able to stay within its game. The Patriots should be able to get chances against Asbury Park, but if they have any trouble finishing, this game could get tricky. Asbury Park has one of the best scorers in the Shore Conference in Jose Cesaire and he is not just a product of a less-than-trying schedule. It may take two or three defenders to slow him down, but Freehold Township is nothing if not prepared on the defensive side. The Pick: Freehold Township, 2-1
(24) Jackson Liberty at (9) Colts Neck, 3 p.m.
On its best day, Colts Neck can look like the best team in the Shore Conference, but at times, the Cougars have had problems finishing goals. That issue even crept up on them last year, when Monsignor Donovan upset the tournament's No. 2 seed 1-0 in overtime. Expect Colts Neck to control play against Jackson Liberty while the Lions try to keep the Cougars off the board early in hopes of frustrating them and taking advantage of a few opportunities to counterattack. Colts Neck has had a recent history of struggling to score in the SCT, so that might be something to watch. The Pick: Colts Neck, 2-0
(23) Shore at (10) Lacey, 3 p.m.
The first-round's most intriguing match-up takes place at Lacey, where the Lions host Shore, which is coached by one of Lacey's standout players over the last 15 years, Christian Pontier. It is also interesting because Shore, for all of its struggles in recent weeks, is one of the most battle-tested teams in the Shore Conference despite residing in a Class B Central division that is annually considered the least competitive at the Shore. Lacey has been very good on their home field and Shore is still quite banged up on the injury front, so despite running a regular-season gauntlet that includes Don Bosco, Holmdel, Rumson-Fair Haven and Ocean, Shore might not be ready to pull this off. The Pick: Lacey, 2-1
(22) Central at (11) Wall, 3 p.m.
Central is arguably the mystery team of the tournament because the Golden Eagles haven't played any games outside the division while bringing a 35-7 scoring margin into postseason. The Golden Eagles beat Monsignor Donovan earlier in the season before dropping a tight 2-1 loss to the Griffins this past week, which might be the best barometer with which to measure Central. Wall, meanwhile, appears to be peaking at the right time, but can't get caught looking ahead to a possible match-up with CBA. Call it a hunch, but this one might be closer than expected, with Wall pulling one out of the fire. The Pick: Wall, 3-2
(21) Point Beach at (12) Toms River South, 7 p.m.
It is rather hard to get a read on Toms River South right now because just when it seems as though the Indians are putting a winning streak together, somebody takes them out. Two sizable losses to Brick Memorial and a loss to Brick have to raise some concern going into this postseason, but the silver lining for Toms River South might be that it is a team that gets up for big games and overlooks lesser ones. So what does that mean for this round? With a possible round-of-16 match against Ocean coming up in the event of a win, the Indians can't get caught taking Point Beach lightly. The Garnet Gulls defend well and have enough weapons to strike when the opportunity comes. Another storyline to watch is how ordinary Toms River South has been at home (4-3) relative to past years. Here's guessing Toms River South's good side comes out on Thursday night. The Pick: Toms River South, 2-0
(20) Red Bank at (13) Howell, 3 p.m.
These two teams are the most alike of any first-round opponents, both in their road to the SCT and the make-up of the team. Both teams rely on a few players to score goals and each was stuck on one win for the better part of three weeks before beginning a postseason push. Howell has three dangerous scorers in Leroy Anderson, Jeremy Hoops and Matt Szyarto, while Red Bank features Justin Gilson (13 goals in nine games since moving to forward), Sam MacPherson and Dylan Fogerty. The easy way to go with the pick is to ride the team from Class A North, but Red Bank is a sound team that will be able to play with Howell, for the most part. Red Bank's chances hinge on two things: First, the health of goalkeeper Luis Aguirre (questionable with a shin contusion) and second, the Bucs ability to finish on set-pieces. Howell is athletic enough to defend balls in the air near the net, and they will have to be on point to keep Gilson from scoring again. The Pick: Howell, 2-1.
(19) Red Bank Catholic at (14) Monsignor Donovan, 5 p.m.
The Griffins are rolling right now, but they draw an RBC team that has responded well to the challenges put in front of them. The Caseys were 1-14-2 last year and now find themselves in the SCT after a very competitive showing in a solid Class A Central division. The Caseys have a number of good finishers and also have a quality keeper in Nick Scheizer. RBC was out to prove a point to itself and the rest of the Shore when the Caseys jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Freehold Township before ultimately losing Tuesday's tune-up, 3-1. Monsignor Donovan, meanwhile, has allowed only five goals this season thanks to goalkeeper Paul Kelly and a standout back four. Red Bank Catholic has managed to score against some quality competition this year, so don't be surprised if the Caseys give the Griffins all they can handle. The Pick: Monsignor Donovan, 2-1.
(18) Point Boro at (15) Toms River East, 4 p.m.
Point Boro has had trouble scoring against some of the better teams on its schedule, but the good news for the Panthers is that Toms River East is not the defensive juggernaut it has been in recent years. The Raiders are, however, a very dangerous team on the attack and that attack can put Point Boro on its heels from the opening kick if the Panthers can't find a way to control the pace. Point Boro goalkeeper Gabe Pesante has kept Point Boro in a lot of games this year and allowed the Panthers to win a few as well, and he will have to come up with a big performance Thursday. Expect him to do so, but also expect Toms River East to be a bit too much for Point Boro. The Pick: Toms River East, 2-0.
(17) Matawan at (16) Raritan, 3:45 p.m.
This game has overtime written all over it. The two neighbors know each other well despite not playing in the same division and each is solid in goal and on defense. Raritan has been the more consistent of the two teams this year, but is coming off a 3-1 loss to St. John Viannney. Matawan, meanwhile, fell to Ocean and Wall to round up its regular season, so the Huskies are not flying high heading into Thursday either. This game probably comes down to the bounce of the ball, which means it could very well come down to penalty kicks. The Pick: 1-1, Matawan in penalty kicks.