Wall Tops Cranford in SJ-2 To Reach First Sectional Semifinal in Program History
HOLMDEL – Wall was ready to take a comfortable lead into halftime when Cranford struck, then scored again, and again, and drew a penalty. Suddenly, the Crimson Knights were scrambling to regain the momentum they had built over the first 23 minutes.
“We were deflated,” said Wall head coach Chris Knight. “They had their heads down but we talked things out, and once Timmy scored and we were flying after that.”
With Wall clinging to a one-goal lead while trying to kill off a Cranford extra-man opportunity to start the third quarter, senior attackman Tim O’Hern came through with a clutch shorthanded goal that ignited a surge for the Crimson Knights. Wall would score four goals in a row and six total in the third quarter to put away the Cougars, 14-7, in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 playoffs on Saturday afternoon at St. John Vianney High School.
The victory sends the Crimson Knights into a section semifinal for the first time in program history and also gives the team a school single-season record 14 wins. Wall will play at No. 2 seed and defending-champion Rumson-Fair Haven in the semifinals on Wednesday.
“I’m happy I started that off because we really needed something like that,” O’Hern said. “I know we were up by one but we needed to get things going. They had scored three in a row so we needed to kick it back up a notch.”
“That goal definitely let us exhale,” said senior attackman Mike McIntyre. “Then once they went into a zone it was a quick, easy three and we just pounded them after that.”
A pair of goals by McIntyre staked Wall (14-4) to a 2-1 lead after the first quarter and O’Hern scored early in the second quarter to push the advantage to 3-1. Cranford answered immediately on a goal by face-off midfielder Conor Halpin to make it 3-2 but Wall responded with three straight goals to take a 6-2 lead. An interception at midfield started the sequence on Wall’s fourth goal as O’Hern dished to a wide-open Jack Textor on the crease for an easy goal. Freshman Logan Peters made it 5-2 when he took a pass from senior midfielder Will Forte and scored and Forte then found the back of the net off an assist from Kyle Peters.
Cranford caught fire in the final 65 seconds, however, to cut Wall’s lead to 6-5 entering the half. Cole Blazek scored off a pass from Dante Cassaro with 1:05 left in the half and Hunter Brogan then scored with 46 seconds to go. Brogan scored again, his third of the game, with just three seconds to go and Wall was called for a slashing penalty during that sequence. Halpin won the ensuing face-off to ensure the Cougars would start the second half with possession.
A once-secure lead was perilously close to slipping away, but Wall’s man-down defense was able to keep Cranford out of the net and get the ball cleared through the midfield. Cranford’s midfield was caught in no-mans land and O’Hern ended up one-on-one with the goalie where he finished with eight seconds left on Wall’s penalty.
“That was a big deep breath out,” O’Hern said. “After that, we just got back to playing our game.”
O’Hern scored again 33 seconds later to complete the hat trick and make it 8-5, and just over a minute later Forte scored off a pass from McIntyre to open the lead to 9-5. Just 26 seconds later Kyle Peters blasted a shot in off a pass from McIntyre to give Wall four goals in three minutes.
Cranford halted Wall’s scoring streak when Brogan scored his fourth off a pass from Cassaro to make it 10-6, but Wall scored twice more to take a 12-6 lead into the fourth quarter. O’Hern added a pair of goals in the fourth quarter to provide the final margin of victory and send Wall to the semifinals for the first time.
“This is huge for the program,” McIntyre said. “No team had ever made it to the semifinals and now we’re trying to go all the way.”
To continue their historic season, Wall will have to get through the most successful program in Shore Conference history and the defending champion in the bracket. After losing to Rumson in the SCT quarterfinals, the Crimson Knights hoped they would see the Bulldogs again. That opportunity has arrived.
“We’re super excited,” McIntyre said. “Hopefully we beat them this time.”
Wall 14, Cranford 6
Cranford (11-7) 1 4 1 0 – 6
Wall (14-4) 2 4 6 2 – 14
GOALS – C: Hunter Brogan 4, Cole Blazek, Conor Halpin; W: Tim O’Hern 5, Mike McIntyre 3, Will Forte, Kyle Peters, Logan Peters, Jack Textor.
ASSISTS – C: Dante Cassaro 3, Cole Blazek; W: Mike McIntyre 3, Kyle Peters 2, Will Forte, Tim O’Hern.
SAVES – C: Phil Marotta 7; W: Sean DeMott 11.
SHOTS: Cranford, 27-26.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.