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Fresh off a wildly-entertaining set of games in Wednesday’s Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, the SCT moves into a quarterfinal round that features eight teams seeded in the top 10. That makes for some really intriguing matchups and only one of the four is a rematch of a game played earlier in the season. One of them even features a pair of teams that have not played in recent years.

After such an unpredictable season, the seeds have pretty much held true to this point of the SCT. Christian Brothers Academy has been the class of the Shore Conference and Freehold Township and Toms River North are not far behind based on what has taken place so far. On Saturday, we’ll find out if any of Wall, Long Branch and Holmdel can join those ranks, while Marlboro and Manalapan play for a chance to keep their bounceback seasons moving toward a championship.

No. 9 Wall at No. 1 CBA, 10 a.m.

This is the sort of matchup that would have made for an epic Shore Conference Tournament championship game a year ago. Wall finished the season a perfect 17-0 while CBA went 13-0-1, but the two unbeaten sides never clashed because there was no Shore Conference Tournament. Instead, they get to clash one year later, with both teams entering the match with at least one loss but playing their best soccer at the moment.

CBA is coming off a dismantling of a tough, hard-working Pinelands team, with almost all the damage in the 5-0 win coming in the second half. That has been a trend for the Colts throughout the season, with CBA outscoring the likes of Toms River North, Freehold Township, Marlboro, Long Branch and East Brunswick after halftime after either being tied or trailing. From game one, CBA has boasted an anxiety-inducing group of attackers at the top of the formation in Dylan Cupo, Jack D’Eletto and Will Thygeson, while the young midfield and the defense have come on strong in front of the goalkeeper duo of Ryan Hayes and Joe Grossman.

CBA sophomore Dylan Millevoi. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

For Wall to counter CBA’s increasingly balanced side, the Crimson Knights will have to tap into their years-long penchant for airtight defense. Over the full length of the season, that defense has not been as strong as in past years, but over the last several games, it has started to look more like the Wall squad that allowed 10 goals in 17 games in 2021 without ever giving up more than one in the single game. Since getting smoked by Rumson-Fair Haven, 5-0, on Oct. 2, Wall is 3-1 with two goals allowed and two shutouts against four quality opponents in Colts Neck, Freehold Township (a 1-0 loss), Central and Rumson again.

Wall has also seen senior Terrence Byrnes start to catch fire after going six games without a goal and with Kyle Horowitz, Emmett Aravich and Matt Murphy all clicking at once, Wall can give CBA some headaches. It is going to take a near-perfect game from Wall but the Crimson Knights have shown they can get close enough that it could be a reality. The key will be whether or not they can score the accompanying goal.

The Pick: CBA, 1-0

 

No. 10 Holmdel at No. 2 Freehold Township, 10 a.m.

Few teams can boast the Shore Conference Tournament success of the past five years that either Holmdel and Freehold Township can. Holmdel is now playing in the quarterfinal round for the third time in five years while Freehold Township won the last tournament in 2019 after reaching the semifinals three years earlier. Both teams look much different than they did just last year, let alone the last time either was playing in the later rounds of the SCT.

In some ways, Holmdel bears some resemblance to the powerhouse teams of the past four years and in other ways, there are some key differences. The Hornets still possess the ball better than the vast majority of teams at the Shore and their defense and goalkeeping have been top-notch. Where the comparison starts to diverge is in the number of scoring threats: Holmdel has been stacked with dangerous players over the past few seasons but this year, Brendan Worobel has carried the scoring load for a teams that passes and defends well, but doesn’t have other finishing-minded players. Worobel has scored 15 of the team’s 23 goals, with the next closest scorer (sophomore David Weiner) tallying two goals and three assists.

Freehold Township senior Herman Colbert. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Freehold Township counters with its own top scorer in Herman Colbert (nine goals and 12 assists) but has found a little more balance with five players scoring between three and five goals to support his efforts. The Patriots have had a litany of injuries to overcome and the combination of Colbert stepping into a leadership role along with senior midfielder Josh Hocheiser and the emergence of a hard-working, unflappable supporting cast have helped the Patriots hang with every opponent on their schedule while beating the vast majority of them.

One x-factor in this game could be the venue, which will be Freehold Township’s grass pitch. Holmdel’s 2-1 overtime win at Lacey marked the first time the Hornets played on grass since early 2019, so it will be worth keeping an eye on how the Hornets handle a less predictable surface. That surface can also bite the home team with the wrong bounce, so it’s possible Worobel can take advantage of something. Either way, both these teams play great defense, have strong goalkeepers and are comfortable in close games. It’s hard to see this one turning one-sided, but if it does, it is probably the home team pulling away.

The Pick: Freehold Twp., 2-1

 

No. 6 Long Branch at No. 3 Toms River North, 10 a.m.

Both Long Branch and Toms River North have become Group IV championship contenders over the past two seasons (although Long Branch is back in Group III for 2021), but the two teams have not run into one another in either a high-stakes regular season match or in the postseason. That changes on Saturday, when Toms River North will look to build on an impressive 7-1 rout of a hot Shore Regional side by fighting off a Long Branch side that has hung tough with the best teams in the Shore Conference.

Long Branch has faced every team seeded in the top five of the tournament other than Toms River North and while the Green Wave don’t have a win over any of those four (CBA, Freehold Township, Manalapan and Marlboro), they were competitive in all four losses. In the round of 16 on Wednesday, Long Branch broke out with a four-goal second half after going scoreless in the first 40 vs. St. Rose, so the Green Wave will be looking to ride that momentum into the early stages of Saturday’s game in Toms River.

Toms River North senior A.J. Emnace. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Toms River North’s only loss of the season was at CBA and there were some similarities between the Mariners’ loss in Lincroft and that of Long Branch. Both teams outplayed CBA for most of the first half but in both games, the Colts scored a late-first-half goal to get the game even by halftime and took over in the second half. While the scoring has had some quiet days, Toms River North creates chances in a relentless fashion and when the finishing touch is working for players like Jared Brown and A.J. Emnace, the Mariners can run away from just about anybody.

While Long Branch is capable staying close and giving itself a chance to win, Toms River North is the team more likely to be the aggressor given its offensive firepower. Long Branch is absolutely capable of advancing but it will take either a shutout performance or perhaps a win in penalties, because it is hard to see the Green Wave getting more than one goal against this Mariners side. If you are looking for the best soccer game to watch on Saturday, this one should deliver.

The Pick: Toms River North, 2-1 in overtime

 

No. 5 Marlboro at No. 4 Manalapan, 11 a.m.

Two Class A North rivals clash in what is sure to be an intense quarterfinal battle. Both Manalapan and Marlboro are physical, defensive-minded teams with goalkeepers who are on a roll after delivering during penalty shootouts in the last round. Manalapan gave up a 1-0 lead against Ocean due to a miscommunication on the free kick, but sophomore goalkeeper Matteo Paolillo came up huge with two saves in the shootout to keep Manalapan moving on. Marlboro senior Nick Tango, meanwhile, turned in a shutout against Monmouth, then stopped one attempt in the shootout as his team slammed home four attempts to advance.

PHOTO GALLERY: Monmouth at Marlboro by Tom Smith

Marlboro's Cooper Laitman. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Manalapan has not won a game straight up since Oct. 1 and yet, the Braves are the No. 4 seed and one game away from potentially reaching the SCT semifinals for the first time in seven years. While the Braves are mired in a five-game winless streak, three of those games are ties, including the penalty-kicks win over Monmouth, and one of the losses was to No. 1 CBA. During the early part of the schedule, the Braves showed a knack for pulling out wins over tough teams, like Long Branch, Howell and, yes, Marlboro. The Braves won the regular-season meeting, 1-0, on a second-half goal by Aiden Soloman.

While Manalapan has been comfortable in close games, Marlboro is equally familiar with them but with some tougher luck, including the loss to Manalapan. The Mustangs had CBA tied late before the Shore’s No. 1 team scored twice in the last six minutes to grab a 3-1 win, which is a game could serve Marlboro well over the next week. Since losing to Toms River East while missing two starters due to red cards, Marlboro appears to have rounded back into form with a win over Rumson and the shootout win over Monmouth.

Whichever team advances on Saturday will continue a stark turnaround from 2021, when both Marlboro and Manalapan struggled. The Mustangs went 2-9-1 with five one-goal losses, while Manalapan finished 0-10-1 with the lone tie coming against unbeaten CBA, of all teams. While it has already been a bounceback season for both squads, Saturday will send one team into a position that seemed somewhat unlikely at the beginning of the season.

The Pick: Marlboro, 1-0

 

Round of 16 Picks Record: 5-3

Overall 2021 Picks Record: 11-6