Boys Soccer – SCT Round of 16 Predictions
Shore Conference Tournament Quarterfinals
(17) Long Branch at (1) Shore, 2 p.m.
From the jump, the No. 1 seed will be put to the test by a Long Branch team capable of beating most of the teams in the field. The Green Wave have faced Wall and Ocean twice each and earned a draw in one of the meetings against Wall. Throw in a week of quality play leading up to a showdown against the unbeaten Blue Devils, and Long Branch looks as ready as it can be. The challenge for the Green Wave is that Shore is a similar team that does everything better than Long Branch: they are more experienced, more efficient in the final third and better on set pieces. If Long Branch has an edge, it is its recent run of clean sheets and quality play in the back and possibly in the midfield. Even those potential advantages are probably closer to pushes, so unless Shore struggles to finish, the Blue Devils should get past test No. 1. The Pick: Shore, 3-1
(15) Toms River North at (2) CBA, 2:30 p.m.
These two teams are somewhat familiar with one another thanks to a preseason meeting between the two and the two programs certainly have a history in recent SCT history. CBA eliminated Toms River North from three consecutive SCT’s from 2009 to 2011 – twice in the semifinals and once in the championship game in 2010. This time, the game will be on CBA’s home pitch, where the Colts beat the Mariners, 4-2, in a preseason game. While that result is mostly meaningless, the Toms River North players will at least know what to expect. The Mariners have come up with some big SCT wins under coach Joe Mahon, but this one would take the cake. It’s easy to envision Toms River North – the team that just blitzed Holmdel 6-0 and also played No. 2 in the state Kearny to a 1-0 result – giving CBA a real challenge, but it’s hard to see CBA getting shutout. Even with CBA’s modest scoring lately, it’s probably going to take at least two goals to beat the Colts in this matchup. We’ll see if North can stay hot around the goal. The Pick: CBA, 2-1
(19) Colts Neck at (3) Freehold Twp., 2 p.m.
For the third straight year, the Patriots and Cougars will meet in the SCT and for the third straight year, Freehold Township will look to take out Colts Neck for the second straight year. Freehold Township’s run to an SCT title nearly shut down on the runway, but the Patriots survived a shootout in the opening round against Colts Neck and the rest is history. As for the future, it appears bright for the defending SCT champions. Since getting center back Jake Kennis back from a 10-game absence due to a concussion, Freehold Township has played like a well-oiled machine, beating Howell, Manalapan and Middletown South each 3-0 and tying undefeated Pennington. Colts Neck has consistently played low-scoring games and Freehold Township has had stretches in which it struggles to score, but the offense is clicking right now. With that in mind, of all the games on the schedule, the road team winning this one might be the biggest potential upset. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 2-0
(20) Central at (4) Ocean, 10 a.m.
Like Toms River North, Central will have the advantage of knowing its opponent going into its round-of-16 showdown after scrimmaging the Spartans and falling to them 4-2 in the preseason. Whether or not that knowledge is enough to beat the B North champs remains to be seen, but the Golden Eagles are coming off of a solid showing in the first round and will try to carry that into Saturday. Ocean, meanwhile, has not played a game since beating Wall last Friday to clinch the B North title and perhaps rust will be a factor. Given Ocean’s problems finishing opportunities around the goal in some of its bigger games, maybe a week away serves as a welcome mental break. It’s hard to know how that will play into the result, but there is no denying how dangerous the Spartans are and if they can find their game, Central will be under heavy pressure. It could be lopsided or it could stay close if the ball isn’t going in the net, but one way or another, the Spartans should find their way into the quarterfinals for the third time in four years. The Pick: Ocean, 4-1
(12) Jackson Memorial at (5) Wall, 7:30 p.m.
The Crimson Knights reserved Wall’s new recreation complex under the lights and the start time on a Saturday night seems to suggest that Wall wants to play Jackson Memorial on turf. Regardless of the field conditions, the challenge against Jackson Memorial is neutralizing Mike Schoener, who burned Monmouth Regional for two goals in the Jaguars’ first-round win. Wall has been a dominant defense all season and while they have the know-how to add Jackson Memorial to its shutout list, the challenge to shutting out the Jaguars is their ability to turn defense into offense with Schoener’s speed up top. Although the numbers suggest Wall is likely to shut the Jaguars out and the styles suggest the Crimson Knights will control the ball, there is a good chance it’s going to take two goals for Wall to win it. Something about this game says penalty kicks. With Nolan Cloney in goal and Jackson Memorial going to the bench in goal because of an injury, that hypothetical edge goes to Wall. The Pick: 1-1, Wall in penalty kicks.
(11) Marlboro at (6) Toms River South, 2 p.m.
Let’s start with a fun stat on Marlboro: Since 2006, Marlboro has made three trips to Toms River in the SCT round of 16 – one to each of the public schools – and survived all three. The Mustangs beat Toms River South in 2006, won a shootout at Toms River East in 2007 and beat Toms River North in overtime last season. So does that mean anything with respect to Saturday’s game? Of course not, but there could be something to Marlboro’s great SCT record over the last decade, which stands at 12-4-2 with no losses to teams seeded lower than them. These Mustangs are a little on the young side and speed might be a factor in favor of Toms River South, but Marlboro is always prepared for the SCT stage. With so many tight games against top-flight teams over the course of the season, there is no reason to believe this one will be decided by more than one goal. With the dynamic, fast-paced style of Toms River South and Marlboro’s ability to knock the ball around, this will be the most fun match of the day, no matter the outcome. I’m sticking with the history books on this one. The Pick: Marlboro, 3-2
(10) Lacey at (7) Manalapan, 3 p.m.
Two teams going in opposite directions meet in this round-of-16 showdown, with Lacey bouncing back from a tough pair of 2-1 losses to Brick Memorial and Toms River South by beating Jackson Memorial on Monday, while Manalapan enters winless over its last three. With that being said, Manalapan entered last year’s postseason sort of sluggishly and still reached the SCT semifinals before ultimately winning the Central Jersey Group IV championship. There is not as much scoring on this Manalapan team, but the Braves are still tough in the back and will have a place to deal with Lacey standout Robert Biele, who is at the center of everything the Lions do. It’s hard to see one goal being enough for either team to win, but this should be a race to two goals. At home, with a handful of players left over from the last two championship-winning teams, Manalapan still has the edge. The Pick: Manalapan, 2-1
(9) Middletown North at (8) Rumson-Fair Haven, 4 p.m.
While it’s easy to look at Rumson as a struggling team right now – especially since the Bulldogs were down 1-0 to Ranney with 15 minutes left on Thursday – it’s worth remembering Rumson has played close games all year and has proven to be more than comfortable having to score late. It does, however, have to be a little disconcerting for the Bulldogs to see how quickly and easily the other four Class A Central teams (Manasquan, Holmdel, Matawan and Monmouth) got wiped out by a combined score of 13-0. It lends credence to the notion that Rumson’s record might be the product of a down A Central division and a 5-2 loss to Shore last Saturday further feeds that monster. Now Middletown North comes to town having won six straight and coming off an overtime win over St. Rose that serves as both a test in a close game and a wake-up call for a team that had outscored its previous five opponents 15-1. If the game is close, the edge could go to Rumson, but if both teams continue to play the way they have been playing, Middletown North might be able to put this one away. The Pick: Middletown North, 3-1
Opening Round Picks Record: 8-3