Eight teams are one step away from the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, which will be Monday at Ocean Township High School. For the first time in a long time, the host school of the semifinals is one game away from earning a chance to play for an SCT crown with its home turf as the neutral site. Ocean is one of the eight teams remaining and will try to end the Cinderella run of this year’s tournament. The other three games, meanwhile, fell according to seed, but have some upset potential to them as well.

Coming off a rather mediocre 5-3 effort picking the round of 16, it’s time to tighten things up with seven games to go.


(7) Howell at (2) Holmdel, 3:45 p.m.

The last time Howell was eliminated from the Shore Conference Tournament, it came at the hands of Holmdel in a shootout round. Holmdel was the No. 6 seed and beat the No. 3 Rebels with a last-minute goal in regulation that sent the game into overtime and won the round of kicks to break Howell’s heart. This year, the Rebels hope the shoe is on the other foot as they roll into Holmdel with an upset on their collective mind. After enduring a brief three-game losing streak that followed an eight-game winning streak, Howell appears to have righted the ship with SCT wins of 8-1 over Barnegat and 3-0 over Wall. The Rebels get their scoring from a lot of different sources and the defense in front of standout junior keeper Shane McBride has been solid all year.

This game will also be the first chance to really compare Holmdel to CBA. The two favorites in this tournament do not have a common opponent to this point and Howell will mark the first. The Rebels lost to the Colts on opening day, 2-0, and were far more competitive in a 1-0 loss to CBA on Oct. 10. By the numbers, Holmdel has not been as stingy as CBA when it comes to allowing goals, so it will be imperative for Howell to cash in on the chances that it will get in the game – and the Rebels will get them. On the other hand, Holmdel has capable scorers all over the field: outside back Mikey Neff has taken off as a scorer since moving back in the formation. With a bunch of juniors who have not been on a stage like this before and a Holmdel team that can do some things that CBA doesn’t really do, Howell will face is toughest challenge yet. The Pick: Holmdel, 3-1


(6) Pinelands at (3) Jackson Memorial, 3:45 p.m.

While both of these teams were optimistic about how could they could be going into the season, the two rosters suggested both might be a year away. Combined, Jackson Memorial and Pinelands roster just four seniors but that hasn’t stopped the two squads from winning 15 games apiece heading into Friday’s quarterfinal showdown. Whatever happens on Friday, the loser will be a high seed in the NJSIAA Tournament and will also have reason to be excited for the 2018 SCT.

Although the teams have had similarly impressive seasons, there will be a difference in style. Jackson Memorial still plays a direct style, although the Jaguars are more reliant on their skilled attackers once the ball gets into the final third of the field. Sophomore Dan Russo has had a big season and is drawing plenty of defensive attention, while Joe Schlageter has run the midfield. He’ll have a big defensive job against Pinelands, which plays a possession-heavy game that features a skilled collection of midfielders and a trio of athletic forwards in Dominic Dos Santos, Kieran Sundermann and Anthony Diaz.

With Pinelands’ possession and Jackson Memorial’s defense and keeper Nick Kinzler, this game is probably a race to two goals. The Jaguars will be looking to capitalize on a mistake or two, while Pinelands will try to stretch out Jackson’s formation. The Wildcats will likely have the ball a lot longer, but Jackson’s quick-strike attack and set-piece ability can counter that. This feels like an even game for a long time and with an edge in goal, Jackson Memorial has the wild card. The Pick: 1-1 tie, Jackson Memorial advances on penalty kicks.


(20) Monmouth at (5) Ocean, 3:45 p.m.

Ocean probably thought it had seen the last of Monmouth when the Spartans beat the Falcons for a second time during the Class B North season, but a pair of sizable upsets by the No. 20 seed have put Ocean in the upset crosshairs as the Spartans try to beat the same team for a third time. Both meetings between the Falcons and the Spartans were fairly competitive, with Ocean winning the first, 4-2, and the second, 2-0. Joel Burgos scored both Monmouth goals in the first game while Ocean junior Santieno Harding countered with a hat trick. Burgos missed the second match with a thigh bruise, which has continued to bother him into this week. The senior played and scored in 2-1, opening round win over Toms River North and sat out Wednesday in a 1-0 stunner over No. 4 Freehold Township. Burgos will be ready to go Friday, according to coach Darren Spadavecchia.

Ocean, meanwhile, brings the Shore’s longest unbeaten streak into Friday’s action having gone 11-0-1 over its last 12 games. The only tie was the last game, which saw the Spartans score early in the second half to pull even with Point Boro, then beat the Panthers in a shootout behind a strong effort in goal by junior Max Winters. The Spartans defense has been air-tight during the streak, allowing just six goals in its last 12 games. The two goals by Burgos came prior to this current streak, so while Ocean is facing a slightly hobbled Burgos, Monmouth will be facing a defense that is clicking on all cylinders.

The best route for Monmouth to win the game is to crowd its defensive third, win 50-50 balls in the midfield and give Burgos a chance to counter. Ocean has scored only two goals in two games and the winner on Wednesday was a 25-yard strike from Luke Yates. The Falcons kept a dangerous Freehold Township team off the board and given how well Ocean is playing, they should like their chances to keep Ocean off the board. Then again, one win away from playing an SCT quarterfinal game on its home field, Ocean is going to be hard to deny. The Pick: Ocean, 2-1


(8) Toms River South at (1) CBA, 2 p.m. on Saturday

The SCT quarterfinal round will conclude Saturday afternoon at the Academy in Lincroft, where CBA will defend its conference tournament crown against a team that has played the Colts tough over the years, but has yet to beat them. Toms River South gave CBA all it could handle two years ago in a 2-1 Colts win over the Indians in the SCT semifinals. While junior Clem Slavick and senior Matt Babcock saw time on that Toms River South team, this CBA squad is completely different, so it’s hard to use that game for a frame of reference. Toms River South, though, has history on its side in that it has been able to legitimately challenge similarly talented CBA teams.

This CBA team is not as offensively dynamic as the last two CBA teams, but is every bit as good defensively and might be even better. The lone returning starter from last year’s 24-1 Shore Conference and state championship team is center back John Askin, who has taken his game to the next level while leading an impressive back line. The addition of All-American Shane Keenan in goal might be the single most significant development for CBA in its quick rebuild. While the Colts are not as explosive scoring goals, they do have a strong midfield unit and a number of capable finishers when called upon to do so.

Toms River South has also not been as good at scoring as the Indians were in each of the last two years, during which they played in back-to-back Group III finals. Goals have been harder to come by for the Indians against the best teams on their schedule, but they are starting to show signs of being a more opportunistic team. Senior Dustin Urbaczek has been finding the back of the net more over the last two weeks and Slavick has been moving around better in the midfield after dealing with a hip injury for much of the season. The Indians also have a strong defensive group in front of breakout keeper Jalen Folsom, so Toms River South will have the ability to keep this game close with a chance to strike for a goal.  In the end, though, it’s hard to sneak one past the CBA defense and Keenan and with this game on the slightly slower track at CBA, the Colts will have the decided edge. The Pick: CBA, 1-0


Round of 16 Record: 5-3

Overall Picks Record: 15-6