Boys Soccer – Brick Continues Hot Start With Upset Over No. 2 Southern
BRICK TWP. - Sean Palmer did not play for Brick Township High School's boys soccer team prior to this year but he knew this year's team had a chance to have a special season and he thought he could add something to an already-strong senior core.
Wednesday against unbeaten Southern - the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network - Palmer got his foot in on three Green Dragons goals, then watched anxiously from the bench as the rest of the team closed out its biggest win of this year and beyond.
Palmer contributed to three Brick goals during a 15-minute stretch and the Green Dragons held off Southern's second-half push to seal a 3-2 win over the second-ranked team at the Shore.
"We have a good group of seniors and I definitely thought I could bring something," Palmer said. "Sometimes we get pinned back playing defense against good teams and it's good to have someone up top or an extra guy up top who can take on defenders and just give the defenders a chance to breathe and recover. So far we have worked really well together."
Southern defeated Brick, 3-1, one day earlier in Manahawkin and Wednesday's payback game for the Green Dragons earned them a split.
"They are a tough team," Brick coach Tom Frazzitta said. "They are up there (in the rankings) for a reason. They move the ball well, they've got a lot of weapons, they're big boys. But I think when out team comes to play, we can beat anybody."
Senior teammates Zack Meyer and Eli Chong each scored goals during the offensive eruption, with Palmer starting the run in the 27th minute after Southern senior Kevin Kiernan scored his 16th goal of the season in the 23rd to break a scoreless draw.
"Zack, Eli and Sean Palmer all have great chemistry and they have amazing skill," Frazzitta said. "Sean Palmer is just so quick with his first step and he can really break down a defense. That was a gameplan we have had multiple times where we just like to tangle up a defense. Then Zack and Eli can just finish and make things happen by finding cracks in the defense."
Southern owned a commanding 8-0 shot advantage heading into the 27th minute when Palmer shook loose for Brick's first shot. He touched it past junior goalkeeper Nathaniel Bott and blasted it into the goal for the equalizer.
"They were pinning us down," Palmer said. "We had one opportunity and we had to take it. That's what the game is about. You take any opportunity you can get."
Five minutes after Palmer scored, he took off on a counter-attack with Meyer, played his classmate through with a diagonal ball right to his feet and Meyer finished the go-ahead goal in the 32nd minute.
"For the first few corner kicks they got, they had three or four guys back but as the game set in, there were only two," Palmer said. "I said to Zack, 'It's a 2-v.-2 on a counter-attack. We can break them down easily.'"
Brick held tight in the back for the final seven-plus minutes of the first half and in the first minute of the second half, the Dragons went back on the offensive. Palmer got the ball inside the 18-yard box and drew a trip to earn a penalty kick. The clock ran for 34 seconds before it was finally stopped and Chong converted the kick and Southern stretched its lead to 3-1.
"I think yesterday's game woke us up," Frazzitta said. "We gave up a goal in the last thirty seconds of the first half and we have good kids who learned a valuable lesson yesterday. Sometimes you have to do the ugly things to keep the lead, then you regroup for 10 minutes, the leaders woke everybody up and we looked to be opportunistic."
The Green Dragons produced two more close calls, with Palmer firing a 14-yard shot just wide of the left post and senior Andrew Nardone drove a direct kick on frame that Bott saved with a diving parry.
That Bott save marked the last shot Brick took, as Southern pressured Brick's defense for the remainder of the game. Palmer suffered a hip injury that made him a spectator for the rest of the match.
"Palmer went down and we had to go defensive," Frazzitta said. "It kind of stinks because that's not the way we play, but we had to make sure and solidify the win."
Kiernan struck again in the 67th with goal No. 17 of his season - the top mark in the Shore Conference this season. Junior Luke Hart tracked the ball toward the right corner and crossed it to Kiernan on the near post. The senior slipped a shot off the right post and across the goal to the left side netting.
Brick stayed on the defensive for the final 13 minutes and did not break under the Rams pressure. Senior Ryan Kelly saved 10 shots to help ward off a 20-5 Southern advantage in shots for the game.
With Wednesday's win, Brick has now beaten Southern in two of the last three matches between the teams. Southern has lost just three Class A South divisional games over the last three seasons (19-3-2) and Brick is now responsible for two of them.
"They're a very good team and they're a team that has really good chemistry because they have been together for a while," Frazzitta said. "The big thing, especially today, is we were opportunistic. We really took advantage of our opportunities and that's whay we were in the situation we are in."
Despite the success against one of A South's best teams over the last three years, Brick has not been able to finish with a winning record. Last year's 8-10-1 mark was the program's best in more than a decade and the Green Dragons have not posted a winning season since 2008.
With two more wins, Brick would clinch a winning record for the first time in 12 years. The Green Dragons are due to close this week with a match vs. Central and will face undefeated Toms River North twice next week before wrapping up the regular season vs. Jackson Memorial.
"We were picked sixth to win the division and now we're in the mix," Palmer said. "We may not win the division at this point, but we're a top three team or so right now and we're just exciting to keep playing big games and hopefully keep getting better for the rest of the season."