Boy Soccer – SCT First Round Preview, Picks
The Shore Conference Tournament kicks off Thursday and while the top eight teams – CBA, Marlboro, Toms River South, Ocean, Toms River North, Freehold Township, Middletown North and Matawan – all have byes to Saturday, 16 more teams will do battle to sort out the rest of the round of 16.
Below are quick overviews of each first-round game with a prediction at the bottom of each. While there is no matchup that screams “upset,” a few of the games seem like potential candidates to advance a road team.
(24) Ranney at (9) Wall, 2:30 p.m.
After a rocky start to the season, Wall rallied back into the B North race with a strong three-week stretch. The last week-and-a-half, however, has included some missed opportunities, with a loss to Manasquan and a tie vs. Long Branch costing the Crimson Knights a division title. The Crimson Knights are good enough to make a run, but like most teams, it’s always a question of whether or not they get the goal or two they need to win.
Ranney has some scoring ability up front, but the Panthers will have to find a way to create chances against this Wall defense. Brendan Wall is a legitimate concern for any of Ranney’s prospective opponents, but Wall will have a plan for him. Against the better teams on their schedule, the Panthers have three goals each time (Holmdel, Pinelands, Asbury Park), so it’s probably going to take three for Ranney to win the game. Against Wall’s defense, that’s a tall order. The Pick: Wall, 3-0
(20) Holmdel at (13) Manasquan, 3 p.m.
Good or bad, a big part of this game could be the venue, which will be the notorious Sea Girt Army Camp – known for is rocky terrain and wind-tunnel conditions. That could spell trouble for either team, but it will likely favor the team that is more used to it rather than the visiting team that has played 12 of its 13 games this year on turf.
Holmdel has run hot and cold and is coming off a 2-0 loss to Raritan in which the Rockets had much more riding on the game. Now, the Hornets will have to ratchet the intensity back up on a tough pitch to get used to against a Manasquan team with a pair of dangerous forwards in Dan Del Guercio and Dulio Guerrero. This is probably a one-goal game one way or the other and the home field, the forward duo and goalkeeper Jack Long give the Warriors the edge. The Pick: Manasquan, 1-0
Update, Thursday, 8:50 p.m.: The game has been moved to Vic Kubu field at the high school, which could change the makeup of the game a little bit. No going back now, though. I'll stick with the original pick.
(18) Shore at (15) Pinelands, 3 p.m.
Despite falling short of winning B South, Pinelands still earned itself a home game in the Shore Conference Tournament and will play a Shore team that should be a decent matchup for the Wildcats. Both teams will want to play the length of the field, neither is especially physical and both have dynamic scorers up top in Matt O’Connell (Pinelands) and Dante Montesinos (Shore). Shore has been susceptible in the back at times this year and gives the Wildcats some chances to attack.
Shore, meanwhile, is going to benefit entering the tournament with a tougher schedule than usual. The Blue Devils played in a deep A Central division and will be prepared to face this particular challenge, especially against a team that will probably play the way Shore wants to play. Overall, Pinelands has been the more consistent team and has fewer weaknesses, although all it will take for Shore is for a player like Montesinos or Stevie Johnson to make a few extra plays. The Pick: Pinelands, 4-3
(17) Southern at (16) Colts Neck, 3 p.m.
The 16-17 game features an A North vs. A South showdown between teams that have played on the extremes, which is probably to be expected from two big-division teams with mid-teen seeds. At its apex, Colts Neck defeated Freehold Township 6-4, but also lost to Neptune. Southern has a convincing 3-0 win over Toms River North and a pair of wins over Jackson Memorial, but dropped a 3-1 decision to Brick. A game like this is hard to peg because who knows which version of either team will show up?
Southern has some positive vibes heading into this game with the return of scoring threat Ethan Leming from a hip injury after almost two weeks on the shelf. Just being in the tournament is also a big hit for the Rams, who have been struggling the crawl from the bottom of the A South standings in recent years. Colts Neck, however, has been very tough at its best. The Cougars were the only team in N.J. to take a lead on CBA prior to Marlboro on Wednesday and they have some potential firepower. The Pick: Colts Neck, 3-2
(23) Donovan Catholic at (10) Asbury Park, 3:45 p.m.
Based on everything that has happened this year, Asbury Park should have no trouble in this game. The Blue Bishops have overwhelmed most of their opponents with their speed and creativity, while Donovan Catholic has not shown much life since upsetting Toms River South. But this is a new season, which resets the pressure for Asbury Park after a 13-1 campaign and gives Donovan Catholic a clean slate after a disappointing, sub-.500 slog through the regular season.
Donovan Catholic will have issues dealing with Asbury Park’s speed on the turf, but they have a forward in Matt Dalton who can also give Asbury Park’s back line problems. The x-factor for Asbury in matchups like this has been goalkeeper Joey Johnson, who is good for a big save a game. Dalton and Asbury burner Davensky JoinVilmar will be active, but Johnson will make a big difference at some point and help his team escape a scare. The Pick: Asbury Park, 3-2
(22) St. Rose at (11) Point Boro, 4 p.m.
This is the lone game in the SCT first round that features two opponents that played one another during the regular season. Point Boro won a competitive 3-2 match on a rainy Saturday in Point Pleasant, so the only difference in this one could be that it’s on a Thursday. Point Boro enters Thursday on a 14-game winning streak that carried the Panthers to their third straight outright Class B South title. Graduation never seems to disrupt Point Boro’s run through B South, but this group of Panthers is trying to change the program’s postseason fortunes.
St. Rose is on the opposite end of the spectrum in that the Purple Roses got their best results at the beginning of the season. They beat Wall and Rumson outside of B Central early on, but went on to drop two lopsided games to Asbury Park in the division and lost to Point Boro and Jackson Memorial later in the year. The Roses have enough firepower to threaten Point Boro and a key factor could be their senior influence. Point Boro has been tough all year, but with a long streak on the line and a familiar opponent coming in, this is more of a tossup that a traditional 11-22 matchup. The Pick: St. Rose, 2-1
(21) Lakewood at (12) Central, 3:45 p.m.
These are two of the more intriguing teams coming into the tournament. Lakewood won five straight to qualify and is playing legitimately well with some legitimate talent. Anthony Calixto has been a goal-scoring machine and the rest of the team features a bunch of underclassmen playing above their grade.
Central, meanwhile, has had an under-the-radar season, albeit a pretty good one. The Golden Eagles did not beat either Toms River South or Toms River North, but they did earn a draw against South and have played every team tough. What makes Central so interesting is they have a manageable path to the SCT semifinals, which will be played on its home turf. Lakewood is an interesting team, but the Piners have not had much experience on turf and Central is too senior-heavy to trip up this early. The Pick: Central, 3-1
(19) Jackson Memorial at (14) Raritan, 3:45 p.m.
Raritan is back in the SCT after winning a share of the Class A Central title on the last day of the regular season and will play a team that doesn’t have a whole lot in common with them. Raritan has a team of mostly seniors and juniors that have combined on a balanced scoring attack, while the Jaguars build their attack around senior Mike Schoener with a young and developing core around him.
Schoener’s performance will probably determine the outcome of the game: if he scores, Jackson Memorial probably wins and if Raritan keeps him quiet, the Rockets should roll. Raritan has not faced a force like Schoener this season and keeping him off the board will be a challenge. The Rockets have begun to show they can win big games against quality teams, but this will be a unique test. The Pick: 2-2, Raritan in penalties