Boys Soccer – 2023 Shore Conference Tournament Semifinal Preview, Predictions
Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals
Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023
At Memorial Field, Summerfield Elementary School, Neptune
No. 2 Howell (9-1-2) vs. No. 3 Toms River North (12-2), 4 p.m.
The past two SCT runners-up meet in the first game of the night on Wednesday and their presence in the Shore final four is a testament to both programs and the ability to replace key players. In Howell’s case, the Rebels graduated four All-Shore starters – three of whom were First-Team players – and have not fallen off much, if at all. Heading into last year’s SCT semifinal against Holmdel, Howell was 10-2-2 and averaging 2.28 goals per game while giving up 0.57. This year, the Rebels have a better overall record and while their marks of 2.17 goals and one goal allowed per game fall short of last year’s marks, Howell rides into the semifinals playing the best it has played all year.
It took a pair of penalty shootouts for Howell to get to the semifinals last year and the Rebels broke out for three goals in the semifinal vs. Holmdel. This time around, Howell is coming off back-to-back four-goal performances after not scoring more than three times in any of its first 10 matches. Nick Turturro was the second-leading scorer on last year’s team as a sophomore and has jumped right into the role of go-to scorer with 10 goals on the season – including two goals and an assist in each of Howell’s two SCT wins.
While Turturro reprising his role has helped Howell maintain its status as one of the best teams in the Shore Conference, it has been players emerging into new roles that have made all the difference. Senior Brent Romano has replaced R.J. Eckelman as the captain of the defense, junior Tye Maser has filled in for J.P. Candela as a dominant midfielder and senior Patrick Martin has kept Howell steady in goal in the face of losing four-year starter Charlie Scanlon.
Toms River North, meanwhile, did not have to replace much in the way of starting experience and scoring production, but the Mariners also were not a team that made it deep into the SCT in 2022 either. In 2021, however, Toms River North had the makings of a team that could end an SCT championship drought for Ocean County that has lasted since 2005, which is also the last time Toms River North won the SCT. Since then, the Mariners have had to replace an entire starting lineup, but they do have a pair of seniors in Luke Montanile and Anthony Ruggiero who saw the field for some important minutes in 2021.
Both Montanile and Ruggiero have played their roles at a high level – Montanile on the back line and Ruggiero up front – while the rest of the roster has rounded into form over the past two years. Toms River North, all-in-all, has been dominant all season long, with 39 goals scored against only six allowed. Five of the six goals conceded by the Mariners have come in their two losses – one vs. Southern (3-2) and the other to No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy (2-1).
As Howell enters Wednesday on a scoring surge, Toms River North has advanced despite modest scoring numbers over its past three games. The Mariners got by both Old Bridge and St. Rose, 1-0, during those stretches, plus a 2-0 win over Middletown South in the SCT Round of 16. Howell will present a step up in competition for Toms River North, but the same holds true for Howell vs. Toms River North. A top-two spot in the Shore is on the line and expect a game-of-the-year candidate. The Pick: Toms River North, 2-1, in overtime
No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy (13-2) vs. No. 12 Middletown North (11-4), 6 p.m.
With nine starters back from last year’s team, Middletown North has reached a stage of the season the Lions have been working toward for an entire year. With mostly the same group in 2022, Middletown North reached the SCT semifinals and took eventual champion CBA to the wire before the Colts scored in the final two minutes to move on to the championship game. For the final 20 minutes, though, Middletown North showed it could push the best team in the Shore Conference to the limit.
This year’s Middletown North team is short an All-Shore center back in the now-graduated C.J. Crolius, but remain a strong unit with a standout keeper in Landon Terrell. Everywhere else, Middletown North is loaded with experienced and the top of the formation is even more dangerous with the development of both junior Josiah Stepney and Paulie Que – the latter of whom scored the goal as a freshman in the 2-1 loss to CBA last year.
For the second straight year, the Lions will be facing a CBA team that is not at full strength. The Colts won the 2022 SCT with top scorer Will Thygeson sidelined by an ankle injury and this year’s version of CBA is likely to be without midfielder Dimitry Corba due to a knee injury he suffered Friday against Marlboro. CBA will still have its other standout midfielder, Lawrence Mancino, plus top scorer Dylan Millevoi, which will be plenty to for Middletown North to think about as the Lions try to beat the Colts.
These two teams met in the regular season and CBA handled Middletown North, 3-0, en route to winning the Class A North championship for the third straight season. That was with Corba in the lineup for the Colts and, perhaps more importantly, without Ryan Barnao on Middletown North’s back line. Barnao missed the early part of the season – including the loss at CBA – with a slipped disk in his back and has since returned to both solidify the defense and provide another scoring threat on set pieces.
CBA has been the Shore’s best team throughout the season, but the Colts have trailed in four of their past five games and are running up against a team that is not only playing to its potential recently but will be riding a level of motivation that not many teams can reach. It is always dangerous to bet against CBA in the SCT semifinals – a round the Colts have owned during their program history – but there are signs of trouble for the Colts heading into Wednesday against a very dangerous opponent. The Pick: Middletown North, 2-1
Quarterfinal Picks Record: 4-0
2023 SCT Picks Record: 15-3