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UNION TWP. - For six consecutive NJSIAA Tournament games totaling more than 526 minutes, the Wall boys soccer team did not allow a single goal against some of the best teams on its schedule.

Despite that, the Crimson Knights, walked off the field at Kean University Saturday after the NJSIAA Group III championship without a championship trophy.

Wall shut out and outshot Millburn over 100 minutes, but Millers senior goalkeeper Zach Barr saved two Wall penalty kicks during the shootout to give his team a Group III state title following a 0-0 draw with the Crimson Knights.

Photo by Paula Lopez.
From left: Wall players Sean Southwell, Tagg Ancrum, Jack Gotsch, Matt Penkethman and Nico DellaPietro. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Millburn's championship is its fifth overall and first since winning Group IV in 2012. Wall is still in search of its first Group III championship since 2004.

"We went the whole state tournament without giving up a goal," said Wall coach Garry Linstra, who led Wall to its last state title 15 years ago. "The kids poured their heart and soul into this run but it comes down to being able to finish and we weren't able to do that today. It's a tough way to lose, but I'm super proud of the effort. To not give up a goal against a team like this but I guess it wasn't meant to be."

Barr lived up to his reputation as one of New Jersey's best goalkeepers throughout regulation and cemented it during the shootout. Wall started the round of penalties on the wrong foot, with senior Tagg Ancrum slamming the first attempt off the inside of the right post and on the wrong side of the goal line.

Wall got back into it then junior Sean Southwell converted his team's second attempt and junior Sebastian Campanile stopped Millburn's second by Rory McLaughlin to make it 1-1 after two rounds.

Barr came up with his first save on Wall's third shot by junior Nico DellaPietro before Kyle Jacobs (Millburn), Matt Penkethman (Wall) and Jason Mazer (Millburn) converted on the following three attempts.

That left the game up to the matchup between Wall senior Jack Gotsch and Barr, with Gotsch needing to convert to extend the shootout. The Wall captain put the shot on frame, but Barr pounced on it, parrying it away from the right post.

"He (Gotsch) didn't look 100 percent sure of what he wanted to do, so I think that allowed me to have a chance at it," Barr said. "So much of penalty kicks is having confidence in your shooters and for the shooters to have confidence in the goalkeeper. I have all the confidence in the world in our shooters and they have confidence in me."

Wall did not test Barr much in the first half but began to make progress against Millburn's defense over the final 12 minutes of the half and got dangerous on the attack in the second.

The Crimson Knights had their best chance in the 55th, when DellaPietro got the ball to the touch line on the left side and crossed the ball to the back right post. Junior forward and leading scorer Jake Pepe got his head on the ball for a firm hit from inside the six-yard box, but Barr made a diving save to his left.

"I think they had the best keeper I have ever seen at this level," Linstra said of Barr. "I think we had better chances where their goalie had to make better saves. Sebby made some good saves for us too, but they weren't as good as the ones (Barr) had to make. He was a big difference-maker."

The Pepe header was reminiscent of the goal by Ocean's James Schutz in the 72nd minute that beat Barr and Millburn in last year's 1-0 Group III final. This time, Barr did not let the header slip by him.

"Last year ran through my head right as that play was happening," Barr said. "I was thinking, 'This can't happen, this can't happen.' I was able to set myself and make a clean dive."

After a shaky first 20 minutes, Wall clamped down on Millburn's attack with its physical, organized defense. The Millers got four shots off over the first 20 but had just four the rest of the way. Their closest call came in the second overtime when the ball cleared Campanile, but Penkethman was positioned on the back post to clear the ball away from the line.

The Wall defense was comprised entirely of seniors for most of the season, led by Ancrum, Penkethman and John Knight. Bladmir Vasquez was the fourth senior starter but an injury forced junior Aidan McGregor into the lineup, where he established himself as a reliable defender heading into his senior season.

Gotsch and forwards Thomas Perry and Michael Beer are the other senior contributors on their way out after getting Wall back to the Group III championship for the first time in 15 years.

"I'm super proud of these guys," Linstra said. "They're a great group of guys and they gave a great effort. You go six state games without giving up a goal, that's super impressive. Seventeen shutouts on the season, Class B North champs, sectional champs - that's a great season. I'm sad for the guys that it ended the way it did, but they met every expectation we had for them."


Box Score

Millburn 0, Wall 0 (Millburn wins on penalties, 3-2)

Wall (17-4-2)000002
Millburn (13-4-3)000003

Shots: Wall, 10-8
Saves: (W) Sebastian Campanile 3; (M) Zach Barr 6
Penalty Kicks: (W) Sean Southwell, Matt Penkethman; (M) Aidan Grigorian, Kyle Jacobs, Jason Mazur

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