Boys Soccer – SCT Semifinal Preview
The first goal for any team during a high school soccer season is to win a division title and this is a unique season in the Shore Conference because the four teams that reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals are all accomplished that first goal by winning their respective divisions outright. Now, all four of those teams have their eyes on the second prize: a conference championship. So who will emerge over the next three days? Let’s take a look into the crystal ball.
All games at Memorial Field behind Summerfield Elementary School in Neptune.
No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy (14-3-1) vs. No. 6 Toms River South (16-2), 5 p.m.
The bracket lined up to potentially pit CBA against defending champion Freehold Township for a third time this season, but Toms River South threw a wrench into those gears by beating the Patriots on their own turf on Tuesday. So instead of having to beat Freehold Township for a third time, CBA will have to get past a Toms River South team that presents similar challenges and, oh by the way, has won 11 games in a row. The Indians have developed into a stingy defensive team that has grown by leaps and bounds in the back in front of a goalkeeper in junior Dom Pizzi who has gained confidence over the course of his first season as a starter. Factor in the overall play of striker Cameron Geerinck and the recent scoring contributions of junior Dylan Parks and senior Sergio Dipolitto, and Toms River South has a blend of goal prevention and danger that makes the Indians a legitimate contender for their first ever SCT title.
In order to reach its first championship game since 1991, however, Toms River South will have to get by the consensus favorite to win this tournament and the team that has won more SCT titles (eight, including one co-title) than any other team. The Colts have allowed just two goals over their last 13 games – both by Manalapan in two separate 1-0 CBA losses – and are one shutout away from matching a single-season school record for shutouts (14). Tom Lozowski and Scott Misson are playing at a high level in the center of the defense, and Ryan Nigro has been an under-the-radar standout alongside Matt Thorsheim. It’s a little scary that three of those four - Misson, Nigro and Thorsheim - are only juniors, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have to wait a year to win.
There is also some sentimental value to this game, with CBA looking to give coach Dan Keane a memorable sendoff in his final season and Toms River South rallying around now-assistant coach Ed Leibe, who relinquished head coaching duties to longtime assistant Ron Laycock after suffering a heart attack right before the season. Laycock was also Leibe’s predecessor as head coach, so it’s fitting that he officially gets an SCT semifinal run on his résumé after coaching with Leibe during his great run over the better part of the last decade. Freehold Township ran the A North gauntlet by beating Marlboro, CBA and Manalapan to get to the final and Toms River South is two thirds of the way there with wins over Marlboro and Freehold Township. This one will be the toughest. The Pick: CBA, 2-1
No. 1 Shore (19-0) vs. No. 4 Ocean (14-3), 7 p.m.
With all due respect to the other three teams that have worked so hard to get here – including Toms River South for the first time in five years and CBA for the first time in four – Shore is the story of the tournament heading into Thursday. The Blue Devils are not only in their first SCT semifinal in 21 years, but they head into Thursday as an unbeaten Group I school that comes from a division that is generally considered to offer inferior competition relative to the other Shore Conference divisions. If Shore were to win this tournament, it would seem to suggest the Blue Devils could also very plausibly win Group I, which would mean – barring any penalty-kick finishes – a remarkable 26-0 season. Even if the run were to end either on Thursday or in Saturday’s championship game, Shore will be a favorite to win Group I and if it does, a one-loss season would still be one to remember in the Shore Conference. The Blue Devils already guaranteed themselves that much by beating Long Branch on Saturday and ambushing Middletown North 4-0 after the Lions entered with a seven-game winning streak.
With all that said, Shore did not come this far to settle for a moral victory heading into the state tournament. Standing in its way is Ocean, a team in its third semifinal in four year and that the Blue Devils already took down once this year - a 3-1 decision back on Sept. 19. That result should give Shore confidence that it has the formula to beat the Spartans, especially considering that they had a goal taken away in that game that could have made the score 4-1. Thanks to scoring machines J.T. Kessler (39 goals) and Dante Montesinos (29), no team in the conference finishes goals better than Shore and the Blue Devils showed they could not only create chances against Ocean, but also finish them.
On the flip side, there are also some positives for Ocean to take into the game based on the loss in mid-September. Back then, the Spartans did not have senior goalkeeper Yianni Kavarakas, who since returning from an absence due to a back injury has posted four straight shutouts while the team has gone 7-1 since his return. It’s not a stretch to say his presence in the first meeting could have taken one Shore goal off the board. While that does not get Ocean even in that game, the Spartans can also build on an 11-7 advantage in shots from that match and hope that another shot advantage will yield better results. Shore is the more efficient team when it comes to turning chances into goals, but it’s very difficult to rival Ocean in shot attempts, especially with Wadneson Alexis on top of his game in the midfield. After scoring three goals Tuesday against a Wall team that had previously given up two all season, it seems like those Ocean shots are beginning the find their mark. The Pick: Ocean, 3-2
Quarterfinal Picks Record: 3-1
Overall Picks Record: 18-5