Boys Soccer – Five Shore Teams Play for Sectional Titles in Central Jersey
Central Jersey Group IV Championship
No. 13 Howell (11-6-1) at No. 2 Freehold Township (16-3-1), 2 p.m.
For the second time this season, Howell will travel to Freehold Township for a tournament game, which is in addition to the regular-season match between the two sides at Howell. There will be much more riding on the line this time, however, with the winner claiming the Central Jersey Group IV championship and moving to within two victories of an overall group championship. If the first two matchups are any indication, it will be close and the edge belongs to the home team, which scored 2-1 wins in both the regular-season meeting at Howell and the Shore Conference Tournament round-of-16 match at Freehold Township.
While the two teams are doubling up on tournament showdowns this season and have clashed dozens of times over the last decade, it has been 13 years since Freehold Township and Howell met in the NJSIAA Tournament. Just days after winning the Shore Conference Tournament in 2008, Freehold Township suffered a first-round upset at the hands of Howell on a golden goal by current Red Bank Catholic head coach Cody Calafiore. Less than a week earlier, Freehold Township beat Howell in the SCT semifinals en route to its title.
Howell is hoping for a similar script this season, with the Rebels coming on late following a 2-5 start to the season. Over the last 11 games, Howell is 9-1-1 and the lone loss was that 2-1 defeat at Freehold Township. Chris Osorio-Rodriguez has been a force in the middle of the field and the army of forwards that includes Kris Maza, Nick Spisak, Andrew Louis and R.J. Eckelman have been too much for Howell’s opponents during the streak.
This Howell senior class has been the team’s driving force as it seeks Howell’s first sectional championship since 1988. Howell’s last appearance in the championship game came in 2007, when the Rebels dropped a 1-0 battle with rival Manalapan.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are also playing their best soccer, going 10-1-1 since a road loss to Elizabeth with only a loss and draw to Toms River North. Herman Colbert started a scoring tear in that SCT win over Howell, putting up eight goals and two assists in six postseason games, including six goals in three state tournament games. Ryan Keegan and Josh Hocheiser have both come up big as well for a Patriots team that has continually come up with whatever they have needed in big games. While all six Howell losses are by one goal, Freehold Township is 8-2. The Patriots have put games away in the state tournament, but if Friday’s game remains close, Freehold Township has shown to be made tense moments and it doesn’t get much more tense than trying to win the program’s first sectional title since 2015.
Central Jersey Group III Championship
No. 3 Long Branch (13-6-2) at No. 1 Hopewell Valley (18-4), 4 p.m.
The Central Jersey Group III championship will pit teams with clashing strengths. Hopewell Valley is a scoring machine, having scored 83 goals in 22 games, including 17 in three NJSIAA Tournament games leading up to Friday’s championship. Long Branch, meanwhile, has been a lockdown defensive team, with 18 goals allowed in 21 matches while playing stiff competition from the outset of the 2021 season.
The schedule that Long Branch has played has set up the Green Wave for the postseason success it has enjoyed, not only this season but going back to 2019, when Long Branch reached the Central Jersey Group IV championship game. That group lost to perennial power Hunterdon Central, 2-0, but the handful of underclassmen who got playing experience and the others who made the trip got a taste of championship soccer that afternoon and are hoping it makes a difference on Friday, when the Green Wave again head west in hopes of securing the program’s first sectional championship since 1997.
Junior Jeremy Hernadez was a freshman starter in 2019, while seniors Brian Yocute, Ceasar Rojas, Arturo Hernandez and Jose Rincon all had a role, but there are a number of key new names on board this time around. Senior Eduardo Ribiero has emerged as Long Branch’s top offensive player with 13 goals and 10 assists, including a pair of goals in the sectional semifinal win over Ocean on Monday.
Ribiero was a varsity player as a sophomore in 2019, but a foot injury forced him out of action for most of the year, including the postseason run.
Two more key additions since 2019 are senior center back Davenson JoinVilmar and sophomore forward Chris Lopez. A transfer from Asbury Park, JoinVilmar has been a central figure in Long Branch’s defensive effort while Lopez has made a scoring impact, including a goal and an assist Monday vs. Ocean.
Central Jersey Group II Championship
No. 4 Holmdel (12-5-1) at No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven (10-5-3), 6 p.m.
Since the last time Holmdel and Rumson-Fair Haven met in the Central Jersey Group II playoffs, the rivalry became very one-sided up until this season. In 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, Holmdel went a combined 6-0 against the Bulldogs while running up a 65-game unbeaten streak during parts of that four-year stretch.
That dominance ended this fall, with Rumson topping the Hornets, 2-1, on the way to winning the Shore Conference Class A Central championship. Prior to that win, Rumson’s last victory over Holmdel was in the 2016 Central Group II semifinals, when the Bulldogs made a surprise run to the sectional final as a No. 13 seed. That was the second sectional final appearance for the Bulldogs in a four-year stretch and also the last time Rumson made it to a sectional final prior to taking its home field on Friday night.
Holmdel, meanwhile, has flourished in the postseason, although the last two seasons have not gone the Hornets’ way. After rumbling to the Group II championship in both 2017 and 2018, top-seeded Holmdel suffered a stunning defeat in the 2019 Central Group II quarterfinals to Governor Livingston on penalties. The following year, the Hornets were again the No. 1 seed in a modified NJSIAA sectional bracket but a COVID-19 outbreak within the team forced the program to shut down before the state tournament run could begin.
Now that all the history is out of the way, how about how both teams are playing right now? Holmdel has maintained a borderline fortress around the goal and much of that effort has to do with senior goalkeeper Tommy Chyzowych. The Lehigh commit showed his value in the sectional quarterfinals against Wall, when he posted a clean sheet over 100 minutes of scoreless soccer, saved two shots in the penalty shootout and converted the winning kick to send the Hornets to the sectional semifinals.
Through 18 games this season, Chyzowych has conceded only 13 goals and pitched 10 shutouts, including two to start the state tournament run.
Holmdel started the year relying heavily on senior Brendan Worobel to score goals but has started to get contributions from other sources. It took 12:30 of extra time on Monday for Holmdel to finish off No. 1 seed Voorhees on the road and in the 2-1 victory, the Hornets found the necessary offense without leaning on Worobel for a score. Sophomore Frankie Brusco headed in the first goal of the game and early in the second overtime period, classmate David Weiner ran an effective give-and-go with senior Bryce Calhoun and authored a spectacular finish for the golden goal.
With Holmdel rounding into form, Rumson will have to be on top of its game and Monday appeared to be something resembling that for the Bulldogs. Rumson has had a considerably easier road to the championship game compared to Holmdel, with the Bulldogs wiping out Spotswood in round one and handling a second-seeded South River side that benefitted from a manageable schedule throughout the year. Rumson did, however, have to fight off a tough Governor Livingston side on penalties in the sectional quarterfinals.
Leading up to the NJSIAA Tournament, Rumson took a 3-0 loss to Wall in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 and also lost a tune-up game to Neptune between the two tournaments, so the 3-0 performance at South River Monday was a welcome site. Alec Pentikis got in the scoring column for the third time this tournament after six straight games without a goal prior to round one vs. Spotswood. Antonio Santos also stayed hot with a goal and an assist and, along with senior Luke Pentikis, will be instrumental in the middle. Rumson did not have Santos when it met Holmdel on Sept. 14.
While Holmdel attempts to re-establish itself as the No. 1 team in Central Jersey Group II and potentially earn another classic showdown with common state-tournament rival Delran, Rumson is seeking the program’s first ever sectional championship after coming so close in both 2013 and 2016.