Boys Soccer – SCT Round of 16 Preview, Predictions
It’s hard to dream up a wilder collection of eight games than Thursday’s Shore Conference Tournament opening round delivered, but Saturday has the potential for some fireworks. Thursday featured four shootouts, one overtime golden goal, two legitimate upsets and two more very close calls on significant upsets. Since eight teams got a bye into the round of 16 this year, all eight of Saturday’s games will feature a game-hardened team against a rested group.
Thursday was not the best day for yours truly in the picks department, although it looks a little better if I take credit for predicting that Jackson Memorial and Raritan would go to penalty kicks tied at 2 (even if I picked the wrong team to win the shootout). Close doesn’t count and I am what the record says I am, but unlike the teams in this tournament, I get to keep playing after a bad day.
First-round picks record: 5-3
(20) Holmdel at (4) Ocean, 10 a.m.
Since reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals three years in a row – including two trips to the final – the Hornets failed to win an SCT game in either of the past two seasons. They broke the mini-drought on Thursday in dramatic fashion, rallying from a two-goal halftime deficit to force overtime, surviving two overtime periods and beating Manasquan in a shootout to advance. Now Holmdel is a live underdog with a recent history of postseason success that not only includes those appearances in the SCT final, but includes a trip to last year’s NJSIAA Group II final. Although Holmdel boasts a young roster, the Hornets already have big-game experience on the roster and this run could be a primer for even bigger things to come.
Fittingly enough, Holmdel’s young roster will have to beat an Ocean team that is also set up to be very good beyond 2016. Sophomores James Schutz, Santino Harding and Erick Vasquez have been regular scoring contributors, sophomore goalkeeper Max Winters has solidified the position and junior Steve Carton has also taken a step forward. For now, though, the senior leadership is what separates Ocean from Holmdel. That hasn’t stopped the Hornets from tearing through the postseason before, but on the road against a tested and Ocean team with a senior-heavy back line might mean Holmdel is a year away from getting back to the SCT final four. The Pick: Ocean, 1-0
(19) Jackson Memorial at (3) Toms River South, 11 a.m.
One of two matches between Class A South opponents, the Jags-Tribe showdown is the third meeting between the two rivals after Toms River South won the first two. Over the last 120 minutes of this year’s series, Toms River South has outscored Jackson Memorial 4-0 so since halftime of the first game, the Indians have basically owned the Jaguars. A big factor for that, however, was a hamstring injury that has slowed down Mike Schoener. The Jaguars’ top scoring threat did not play in the second half of the first meeting and was still working his way back during the second game.
Schoener has begun to pick up his game over his team’s last five games, during which he has either scored or assisted a goal in each. The first four of those games were wins and the most recent was Thursday’s shootout win over Raritan, so the results have indicated that the Jaguars are almost whole again – although senior Christian Fryc has also been slowed by an injury. While all of that is reason to believe in Jackson Memorial, Toms River South is built to withstand the Jaguars. They are tough in the back, have a good goalkeeper in Dom Pizzi and can adapt to different styles of play. Toms River South won’t be bulletproof as the No. 3 seed in this game, but an edge in experience and home field will be a big obstacle for Jackson. The Pick: Toms River South, 2-1
(12) Central vs. (5) Toms River North, 1:30 p.m. at Toms River South
Like the other all-A-South matchup, this one was one-sided during the regular season. Toms River North beat Central twice – once by a 1-0 count in Toms River and again in Bayville, 2-1. All season long, the Mariners have been just a step ahead of the Golden Eagles: they beat them twice by one goal and after Central earned a 0-0 tie against Toms River South on the road, the Mariners did them one better by beating Toms River South. Central has had some scoring issues against the best teams on their schedule, scoring a total of eight goals in nine games against teams with a winning record and five of those goals came in two meetings vs. Southern. Central again went scoreless Thursday at home against Lakewood, but advanced thanks to a round of penalty kicks.
Toms River North meanwhile, has had some trouble with success. After a 6-1 trip the first time through the A South schedule, the Mariners got beat by Southern, 3-0. They bounced back nicely from that defeat and beat Toms River South, 2-1, in the second meeting between the teams, only to lose to Toms River East on Monday, 3-2. If the pattern keeps up, Toms River North should wake up for the SCT, but they will face a senior-loaded opponent that knows them and is hungry to beat them. After a scare in the first round, Central too should be sharper and if there is one A South game in which the underdog team prevails (and there could be two), this looks like the one. The Pick: Central, 1-0
(16) Colts Neck at (1) CBA, 2 p.m.
The Colts tasted some blood on their lip for the first time on Wednesday and will enter the postseason knowing what defeat feels like. How they react to that is one of the leading stories heading into the tournament, although they did get a chance to bounce back in the form of a 5-0 win over Neptune on Thursday. Normally, the round of 16 would give the No. 1 seed an opportunity to feel its way into the tournament, but that might not be the case for CBA given Saturday’s opponent. Colts Neck has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team all year and that has played out in the season series against CBA. In the first meeting, CBA completely overwhelmed Colts Neck in a 6-0 rout, but the Cougars bounced back and scored first on the Colts in a game CBA eventually won, 2-1.
As much as Saturday’s game may depend on which Colts Neck team shows up, it’s more likely dependent upon which version of CBA comes to play. If CBA is on its game, it’s hard to see any team – Marlboro included – wresting the SCT title away from the defending champs. The Colts also get center back Scott Misson back after he missed two games while serving a two-game suspension for what the team thought was an unfair red card. Considering Misson is now back and CBA now knows Colts Neck is capable of hanging with them on a good day, the No. 1 team should be in top form. The Pick: CBA, 4-1
(11) Point Boro at (6) Freehold Township, 2 p.m.
Class B South had a pretty good showing during the regular season and that has continued into the postseason. Both Point Boro and Pinelands scored decisive shutout wins as home teams and it took penalty kicks to beat road underdogs Donovan Catholic and Lakewood. Even the B South girls are enjoying a bog start to the tournament after No. 11 Point Boro knocked off No. 6 Shore Regional and No. 13 Lacey stunned No. 4 Manalapan on Friday. The B South hot streak, however, will be put to the test in the boys round of 16 when the two remaining representatives face A North public powers on the road.
Point Boro is the B South team with the best shot to win on Saturday, and that’s simply a statement based on relativity. Point Boro has a real chance to win the game due to a number of factors: the Panthers are not bothered by physical teams, they have a very good keeper in Tyler Haines and they face a Freehold Township team that has not treated its own goal like the fortress it had been in recent years. The Patriots have already allowed more goals this season (21) than they did in either of the past two seasons and just one fewer than in 2013 in five fewer games. Freehold Township has passed the program test under new coach Josh Mehl by playing like a Shore power despite losing 14 seniors, but now it really gets put to the test in the postseason – beginning with a match against a gritty team that just happens to be on a 15-game winning streak. Just a feeling, but this game ends golden for one team and in heartbreak for the other. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 3-2 in overtime
(10) Asbury Park at (7) Middletown North, 2 p.m.
Like Central, Asbury Park can exhale after escaping a first-round shootout. The Blue Bishops have not been tested too many times this season, but it says something about the character of the team that it rallied from a one-goal second-half deficit and buried six out of six penalty kick attempts to advance. Now the Blue Bishops can go back to playing the role of underdog on Saturday, and that’s a dangerous proposition for the rest of the field considering how gifted Asbury Park is around the field. Their speed presents problems for any team they play and that will only be magnified if their opponent underestimates their skill.
Most years, this Asbury Park team would have a great chance to move on to the quarterfinals as a No. 10 seed, but Middletown North is not a typical No. 7 seed. The Lions probably should have been a top-four seed and there is a case to be made they are the third-best roster in the tournament. That doesn’t mean they can’t be picked off in this game – the Lions have had some scoring problems in a few games – but the matchup favors Middletown North. The Lions have given up the fewest goals in the conference (nine) and they have the speed and skill to attack Asbury Park’s back line, which is probably the most vulnerable part of the Blue Bishops team. Joey Johnson can keep Asbury Park in the game with some magic in goal and Asbury Park will probably crack the code at least once, but the Bishops got a tough draw. The Pick: Middletown North, 3-1
(9) Wall at (8) Matawan, 2 p.m.
Like a lot of teams seeded in the Nos. 8 and 9 spots in the SCT, Wall and Matawan both have the potential to be dangerous teams were it not for the fact that the winner will likely have play the No. 1 seed. Matawan’s high points this season include winning a share of the A Central title and also winning non-division games against a pair of quality opponents in Manasquan and Asbury Park. Wall, meanwhile, beat Ocean twice during the regular season and also won the second meeting against Middletown North. The Crimson Knights also erupted for eight goals in a first-round win over Ranney and senior Dan Frisch-Harmon’s ability was on full display in the form of a hat trick.
Both teams have also shown some warts recently. Matawan had two chances to win the outright A Central title and failed to deliver, tying both Raritan and Red Bank to open the door for Raritan to gra a share of the title. Wall, meanwhile, had a chance to win a share of the B North title with a win over Long Branch on Tuesday, but settled for a 1-1 tie and a tie for third in the standings. The postseason represents a fresh start for both and Saturday represents a chance for both teams to take advantage of an opportunity. For Matawan, the Huskies can push their way into the SCT quarterfinals with a very good group of seniors, while Wall can make another trip to the quarterfinals and turn Frisch-Harmon loose against CBA. Matawan is probably the more dangerous team 1-through-11, but Wall is a defensive-minded team with the best player on the field, with apologies to Matawan’s standout center midfielder Jacob Labinger. Matawan also has a pair of quality center backs in Keleb Mehari and Tyler Chin who could be the difference if the Huskies advance. The Pick: Wall, 1-0
(15) Pinelands at (2) Marlboro, 3:30 p.m.
The final game on Saturday pits two teams coming off their most impressive results of the season. Pinelands did benefit from an early red card that gave the Wildcats a man advantage Thursday against Shore, but they proceeded to roll up a 5-0 victory over a quality opponent. Marlboro, meanwhile, knocked off the state’s No. 1 team by beating CBA 3-1 on Wednesday. Saturday will be a test for both: Pinelands will have to recalibrate its attack against one of the Shore’s hottest teams at full strength, while Marlboro will have to go back to playing the role of the hunted without getting too caught up in Wednesday’s big win.
The focus of the game for Pinelands will be creating scoring situations for 32-goal dynamo Matt O’Connell, and that might actually be a manageable goal. Marlboro is a team that is more likely to impose its will on the game rather than gameplan to stop a specific forward, unless the circumstances beg for such a strategy. It will be interesting to see if O’Connell compels the Mustangs to throw a wrinkle in their formation, but it is probably not likely. On the other side, Marlboro’s offense has begun to click behind 17-goal forward P.J. Ringel, who is going to be a major issue for Pinelands because of his athleticism – which is the case for most teams. The Wildcats have been mostly solid in keeping teams off the board, but they’ve had a few hiccups in that regard. It’s hard to see them either getting numbers up to create chances or defending against Marlboro’s speed and skill without making serious concessions on the other front. The Pick: Marlboro, 3-0