The Shore Conference Tournament started out with a fresh, new look that featured World-Cup-style group play and a new seeding system for the 22 teams that qualified. Now, the tournament is back to its roots, with six of the top eight seeds advancing to the SCT quarterfinals and two surging double-digit seeds joining the mix.

In years past, Middletown North would have been seeded considerably better than the No. 12 seed, so the Lions’ inclusion in the SCT quarterfinals as a double-digit seed is not a surprise, especially considering they were in the same position a year ago, when they reached the semifinals. Toms River East, however, is a more conventional Cinderella story, if there is such a thing. The Raiders started 1-3-2 and have not been ranked in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16 all year, but have not lost in their last seven matches.

The rest of the field is a list of teams that have been delivering all year long and are now one win away from achieving a significant goal.

Friday, Oct. 13

No. 20 Toms River East (6-3-3) at No. 12 Middletown North (10-4), 2 p.m.

The only two road teams to win in the round of 16 clash for a spot in the SCT semifinals on Friday afternoon. This marks the second straight season the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds were ousted prior to the quarterfinals and Middletown North is once again one of the culprits. The Lions beat Long Branch on penalties last season to reach the SCT semifinals as a No. 13 seed – Middletown North’s first trip to the SCT semis since 2004. This time around, Middletown North is coming off a win at No. 5 Southern Regional thanks to a pair of goals by junior defender Ryan Barnao – a regular source of goal-scoring for a well-rounded, physical Lions team that also boasts a big-time striker in Josiah Stepney and a standout goalkeeper in Landon Terrell.

Toms River East senior Jack Smyth. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Toms River East senior Jack Smyth. (Photo: Tom Smith |

On the other side, not since 2011 has Toms River East made it this deep into the SCT and the Raiders have not made it to the semifinals since 2008. The Raiders stunned No. 4 Colts Neck on Wednesday, 5-2, in a game that saw the Raiders score the first four goals of the game before Colts Neck finally caught Toms River East vulnerable in the back for a goal. That dismantling was an exhibition in physicality and execution and more of the same will be needed Friday against a Middletown North side that boasts plenty of tournament experience after returning nine starters from last year’s semifinal run. Toms River East goalkeeper Bobby Calvo is in the All-Shore First Team goalkeeper conversation along with Terrell and the Raiders are scoring from every angle lately, led by Rowen Joice, Jackson Markovitch and Jack Smyth.

Toms River East has found its identity during a six-game unbeaten streak by leaning on its well-rounded lineup. Last year, the Raiders ran everything through All-Shore First-Teamer Kajus Matazinskas and the transition into a different playing style took some time. Middletown North, meanwhile, began the season with Barnao injured, but now has a complete team that is again peaking at the right time. With Middletown North getting a chance to host and one year removed from showcasing its tournament prowess, the Lions have to be considered the slight favorite.

The Pick: Middletown North, 2-1


No. 8 Marlboro (5-3-3) at No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy (12-2), 3 p.m.

Friday’s quarterfinal between the two Class A North rivals is a rubber match of sorts – one that extends back to opening day of 2022. Marlboro opened its 2022 campaign by upsetting CBA, 1-0, on a golden goal by current Mustangs senior Cade Jacobs and in addition to being the first loss CBA suffered in 2022, it was also the last. The Colts went on to win their last 19 games, including the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament titles, while Marlboro experienced an up-and-down, 8-4-4 season that was highlighted by that opening-day win. The two teams also opened up with one another this year, with CBA exacting revenge in the form of a 1-0 win that was decided on a Dylan Millevoi goal in the final two minutes.

Marlboro junior Trevor Barrett shadowed by CBA junior Owen Wierman. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Marlboro junior Trevor Barrett shadowed by CBA junior Owen Wierman. (Photo: Tom Smith |

CBA enters the game having looked vulnerable lately. The Colts lost their first game to an in-state opponent since that season-opener vs. Marlboro when Middletown South beat them, 2-1, on Oct. 5. Two days later, Monroe jumped out to a 1-0 halftime lead on CBA, only for the Colts to break out with three goals in the second half on the way to a 3-1 win. Even in Wednesday’s round-of-16 win over Jackson Memorial, CBA had to sweat out the second half after a quick 2-0 lead turned into a 2-1 nail-biter late in the first half and stayed that way through the final whistle. Even during this recent stretch, though, CBA has gotten strong play from its returning core from 2022 – Lawrence Mancino, Dimitry Corba, Christian DeOliveira and Millevoi – plus a goal by junior Brayden Perry in each of CBA’s last three wins.

With CBA showing some vulnerabilities conceding goals over the last week, Marlboro will try to take advantage while looking to deal with its own inconsistencies finishing goals. The Mustangs have scored multiple goals in five games this year, but four of them were against teams with a winning percentage below .500 and the one game the Mustangs scored twice against a winning club was a 3-2 loss to Middletown South. Against teams that are .500 or better this year, the Mustangs are 1-3-3, including a 1-0 win over 5-5-1 Manalapan and a shootout win after a 0-0 tie with Long Branch in Wednesday’s round of 16. Ryan Cohen has been Marlboro’s most reliable scorer and with CBA’s firepower, playing on its home field, the Mustangs will need someone else to deliver a goal, because it will likely take two to beat the Colts.

The Pick: CBA, 1-0


Saturday, Oct. 14

No. 7 Ocean (7-3-2) at No. 2 Howell (8-1-2), 10 a.m.

In a back-to-back game stretch against Colts Neck and Manasquan on Sept. 14 and Sept. 19, Ocean conceded a whopping 11 goals in two Class B divisional losses. Throw those two forgettable games out, and the Spartans have conceded just five times in 10 matches behind an organized defense led by Marc Gleason and Andrew Palumbo, plus a standout goalkeeper in Zach Frabizio. They fell behind Manalapan, 1-0, on Wednesday and came through with the equalizer with nine minutes to go thanks to a header by Gleason, then got a superb performance from Frabizio in the round of penalties to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since winning the SCT in 2018.

Howell senior Marcello Romano. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Howell senior Marcello Romano. (Photo: Tom Smith |

Ocean will stare down a Howell team that has been in this spot before, with the Rebels returning six starters from a team that reached the SCT championship game in 2022. Nick Turturro was a top goal-scorer for the Rebels last year and he has reprised that role again, while getting increased contributions from Tye Maser, Bryce Ocholla, Marcello Romano, Brent Romano and Tyler Borenstein. Howell started off with three unanswered goals on Wednesday against Manasquan and after the Warriors made it interesting with two second-half goals, Howell finished off the win with a clinching goal by Turturro – his second of the game.

Howell has the advantage in firepower and experience, so Ocean will need its senior goalkeeper to have a signature performance. While Howell has been solid in the back and in goal, the Rebels are not as stingy as they were a year ago with now-graduated First-Team All-Shore goalkeeper Charlie Scanlon. Howell has finished off just three shutouts this season, but new keeper Patrick Martin has settled in and been dependable for the Rebels. The player to watch for Ocean is Noor Eraky: the junior has scored big goals throughout the season and if the Spartans are to win, they will need someone to deliver a decisive blow.

The Pick: Howell, 2-0


No. 6 St. Rose (9-1-3) at No. 3 Toms River North (11-2), 10 a.m.

Since losing to Wall on opening day, St. Rose has not lost a match. Somehow, the Purple Roses managed to miss out on winning the Class B Central division championship despite their hot streak, but they have proven to be a big-game team over the last 12 months, starting with a run to the 2022 NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game last fall. This season, St. Rose has taken down decorated programs in Manasquan, Freehold Township and Toms River South, while also notching a draw vs. Long Branch. Jack Harmon is a returning All-Shore goalkeeper who has starred in St. Rose’s biggest games, while Henry McLean, Diego Nieves and Jack Kane have been the spine of the St. Rose formation throughout the season, with Jack Tiernan leading the goal-scoring effort.

Toms River North senior Anthony Ruggiero. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Toms River North senior Anthony Ruggiero. (Photo: Tom Smith |

As impressive as St. Rose has been against the best competition on its schedule, it has not faced a challenge like the one it is undertaking on Saturday morning in Toms River. The Mariners have overwhelmed the majority of their opponents with pressure and depth that wears on teams – just as it did vs. Middletown South on Wednesday. Toms River North finally broke through with two goals during an eight-minute stretch in the middle of the second half of that game to seal the 2-0 win and move on to a quarterfinal game vs. the Purple Roses. The Mariners can beat opponents from several directions, with Kosta Papanikolas, Christian Caso, Turkan Curak and Anthony Ruggiero the key cogs on the attack.

Ultimately, though, it is the defense, led by Luke Montanile, Jack Eubanks and goalkeeper Mike Vivolo that has made Toms River North so dominant. In their two losses, the Mariners allowed a combined five goals to Southern and CBA. In the 11 wins, Toms River North has allowed a staggering one goal, which came from Middletown North standout Josiah Stepney on the first Saturday of the season. St. Rose has proven it can score against any team, but to beat Toms River North, the Purple Roses will likely have to score more than once while slowing down a high-scoring attack.

The Pick: Toms River North, 3-1


Round of 16 Picks Record: 5-3

2023 SCT Picks Record: 11-3

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