Boys Soccer – SCT Quarterfinal Preview/Picks
No. 25 St. John Vianney at No. 1 Toms River South, 3 p.m.
St. John Vianney’s run hasn’t quite reached improbable status yet, but the Lancers are one win away from, arguably, the most unlikely trip to the semifinals since the tournament expanded beyond 16 teams. It’s possible the draw was conducive to two Vianney upsets, but the Lancers won’t be under the radar as they prepare for a trip to play the top seed in the tournament. Protecting the goal has been a constant for St. John Vianney this season, one that has continued over the first two rounds of the SCT. The Lancers have allowed only 10 goals in 14 games and have allowed more than one goal just once (a 2-0 loss to Rumson-Fair Haven). Goalkeeper John Kazmac has five shutouts to his credit and senior defender Christian Bruno has anchored the back line while also providing some offense.
Like Vianney, Toms River South has excelled in keeping the ball out of its goal, although the Indians have had a few more lapses in that department. The reason it has not mattered is because they have also shown flashes of offensive brilliance as well, and in that regard, they appear to have an edge on St. John Vianney. While Lancers senior Alex Politi might be the top scoring threat on the field, the Indians have more players who can break a game open with a goal.
Toms River South did well to keep Ocean to one goal in the round of 16 and that the No. 1 seed needed penalty kicks to beat a No. 16 seed should not be that disconcerting considering how good Ocean is. Toms River South is not a juggernaut No. 1 seed. The Indians can be defeated with the right formula, execution and some good fortune and that’s a recipe Vianney is good enough to cook up. Where the Indians can separate themselves from a lot of teams is their combination of experience, cohesion and competitive athleticism to complement their ability. With two good defenses and goalkeepers, this should be a one goal game, with the edge going to the home team that has won these types of games all year. The Pick: Toms River South, 1-0
No. 7 Jackson Memorial at No. 2 Manalapan, 3 p.m.
It has been seven years since these two programs last met in a Shore Conference Tournament setting, and while the players have little-to-know first-hand knowledge of the game, it’s a good bet that Jackson Memorial coach Steve Bado has mentioned the meeting a few times over the last two. Manalapan routed the Jaguars, 5-0, in the SCT semifinals and the Braves were also the defending champion during that season as well, facing a Jackson Memorial team that won a Class A South division title.
Although this Jackson Memorial group won’t relate much to that history, the players have plenty of motivation heading to Manalapan Tuesday. The Braves are the defending SCT champions and a number of players on this Jaguars team remember 2012, when Jackson Memorial lost in the SCT semifinals as an unbeaten No. 1 seed. Many also played Manalapan during a regular-season game last year, when the Braves won in overtime in Jackson. This Jackson team has not been as dominant from the beginning as the 2012 team, but the Jaguars are just as hot during the tournament. Jackson Memorial is 9-0-1 in its last 10 games with eight shutouts, its only tie a 0-0 game against Toms River North.
Manalapan wore down Toms River East in the opening round of the tournament on Saturday and leading scorer Ryan Hammer got going with two goals to break out of a recent scoring funk. Jackson Memorial will most certainly throw a lot of attention Hammer’s way, but even through Hammer’s quiet scoring stretch, the Braves managed to find goals. Manalapan has failed to score two goals only three times this season and was shut out just once – a scoreless draw against Freehold Township. There are a lot of players for Jackson to worry about and if Manalapan is clicking, the Jaguars could end up doing a lot of chasing and putting their exceptional fitness to the test. The magic number in this game is two, because if either team can get there, it’s unlikely the other comes back. Expect Manalapan to keep a clean sheet long enough and break the ice eventually. The Pick: Manalapan, 2-0
No. 19 Marlboro at No. 11 Freehold Twp., 3 p.m.
Marlboro has been the story of the tournament to this point, particularly senior striker Bryan DaSilva, he of the five goals in one game and golden goal in the next. The Mustangs did just enough to qualify for the tournament and since getting in, they have taken out two teams – Red Bank and Toms River North – that have looked like final four contenders at different points this season. The run has put Marlboro is rather exclusive company as far as accomplished tournament teams go as the Mustangs are now 12-3-2 in their last 17 SCT games as a program. Although Marlboro has not been in the tournament since 2009, the Mustangs did win the title that year and this group is chasing that same dream.
Strangely enough, coach Dave Santos thought this year’s team was one that would rely on an experienced defense and strong goalkeeping, and yet it has been the nine goals in two games that have helped offset the five allowed and carried the Mustangs into the quarterfinals. In Freehold Township, Marlboro will actually be facing a less dangerous team when it comes to goal-scoring than it did in either of the first two rounds. With that being said, Freehold Township made it look easy the last time these two met, hammering the Mustangs, 4-0, with all four goals coming in the first half. The first meeting was much close, as Freehold Township eventually broke through for the game’s lone goal in overtime.
This game will be played at Freehold Township, the site of the overtime game between the teams and considering the site and the magnitude of the game, this meeting should resemble the close game far more than it does the blowout. Freehold Township is coming off its best win of the season – a second win at CBA – but the Patriots also barely survived a penalty kick round against Colts Neck in round one. Finishing at home has been especially difficult for Freehold Township and if that trouble creeps up again on Tuesday, Marlboro may have a chance to keep this improbable run going. I haven’t had the guts to pick Marlboro yet and the Mustangs will be happy to know that I’m still not quite ready to jinx them yet. I’ve also been able to nail the two Freehold Township predictions, so something will have to give here. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 2-1
No. 5 Shore at No. 4 Wall, 3 p.m.
Both Shore and Wall are coming off thrilling wins against dangerous double-digit seeds at home and will now face a new challenge. For Shore, Wall is the toughest team they the Blue Devils have played to date, with the possible exception of a pretty strong South Plainfield team from out of the Greater Middlesex Conference. The Crimson Knights have rediscovered their defensive mindset and have been making it very difficult for opponents to find the net lately. The improved defense has also helped goalkeeper Jack Wishart play more freely and aggressively in goal and the senior keeper came through in a big way by saving two penalty kicks during a shootout win over No. 20 Long Branch on Saturday.
On the attack, Wall does not necessarily have a player that Shore will have to track around the field – like Central’s Blake Czajkowski forced them to do on Saturday – but the Crimson Knights have capable offensive players all over the field. Brendan Barcas and Zach Hetzel remain the top scoring options, while junior Connor Fry has emerged as a complement to those two as scorers. Shore also has to worry about players like Joe Tashjy, Gerardo Medina and Dan Frisch-Harmon, who have also done some scoring for the Crimson Knights and are key cogs in the attack.
Wall, however, faces a difficult task as well. While Long Branch might have more individual talent than Shore does, the Blue Devils are better at turning their talent into goals. Shore is not shy about getting off shots, and quality shots at that. Junior J.T. Kessler (31 goals) is a legitimate goal-scorer who will be a serious threat against Wall, while sophomore Dante Montesinos has emerged as one of the most dangerous players in his class throughout the Shore Conference. The Shore defense is also very experienced and it took a special effort by a special goal-scorer Saturday to score twice against the Blue Devils. No team has really been able to control the game against Shore this season and Wall has a good chance to change that with the way it has been playing lately.
The key to the game is probably the Shore back four limiting the chances that Fry and Hetzel have going at the goal and the midfield’s ability to transition to defense against Barcas as well as Barcas can transition to defense himself. Still, it’s hard to get the image of Shore knocking the ball around and unleashing shot after shot against Central before the flood gates eventually opened. I have not had a good read on either of these teams during the tournament and considering the way Shore feeds off of the doubters, it makes this game the hardest to call during this tournament to date. In all honesty, and despite my Central pick a few days ago, I’ve been buying what Shore is selling this year. To quote Kevin Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” No more tricks. These Devils are for real. The Pick: Shore, 2-1