WALL TWP. - Garry Linstra started his tenure as Wall boys soccer coach with three straight trips to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III final and won the overall Group III title, but the sectional championship has eluded him and the Crimson Knights ever since.

While Wall has been a perennial contender in Central Jersey Group III over the last 15 years, a missed play here and a mistake there have been his team's undoing, according to Linstra.

Not only did Wall not let any of those misplays happen in Friday's Central Jersey Group III final against 11th-seeded Ocean; they did not happen during the Knights' entire championship run.

Junior goalkeeper Sebastian Campanile and the Wall defense turned in its fourth straight tournament shutout and senior Thomas Perry provided the lone, necessary score in the 45th minute to deliver the top-seeded Crimson Knights a 1-0 win over the rival Spartans and the program's first Central Group III title in 15 years.

Photo by Paula Lopez.
Photo by Paula Lopez.

"Maybe in the last couple of years, we missed an assignment or we missed a tackle or something like that and it wound up costing us the game," Linstra said. "Before the state tournament, we took every goal that was scored against us and watched it to figure out 'Why did this happen?' That was what the needed to really hone in and it's really got them locked in so far."

Wall's defense entered the state tournament having allowed 13 goals in 17 games and the Crimson Knights were even better during its most recent four-game run. After routing Pennsauken in the opening round, Wall leaned on its defense to beat No. 8 Freehold Boro, 2-0, and No. 4 Allentown on penalties after 100 scoreless minutes. Wall outscored its four state tournament opponents by a combined count of 9-0.

"We have all been playing together since we were five years old so it's really special knowing we connect so well together and now we have a championship together," senior center back Tagg Ancrum said. "It feels awesome getting this win with my brothers and I wouldn't want it any other way."

The shutout was also the 15th of the season for Campanile and Wall, which sets a new school record. Ancrum and classmates Matt Penkethman, John Knight and Bladmir Vasquez have been the all-senior back four throughout the season, with junior Aidan McGregor starting Friday in place of the injured Vasquez.

"(Ancrum, Penkethman and Knight) have played together forever and Aidan McGregor stepped up and did an amazing job for Blad Vasquez today," Linstra said. "Even Sean Southwell and Jack Gotch did a great job in the midfield. This is a school record 15 shutouts and it's amazing how the guys have dug in constantly throughout the season."

"At the start of the season, (Linstra) told us if we get 15 shutouts, he was taking us out and buying us a steak dinner," Ancrum said. "There was definitely some motivation right there."

The defense had its work cut out for it in the first half while defending a Spartans team that had a strong wind at its back. The back line held strong against Ocean, limiting the Spartans to two shots on goal and five total while the Crimson Knights attempted only two total shots of their own in the half.

"Whenever the ball came at us, we would try to clear it out and it would just blow right back to us," Ancrum said. "It was constant defense and it was definitely not fun to deal with, but we got the job done.

"We were all saying on the field, 'Get the ball up the field, hold off until the second half and we are all good.' We knew we had the wind and we were going to score some goals."

The second half was a completely different story. Wall pushed the pace immediately off the second-half whistle and the pressure paid off in the fifth minute. Ancrum played the ball long down the middle of the field and junior Jake Pepe flicked a header toward the right side of the 18-yard box. Perry beat goalkeeper Isaac Greenspan to the ball and slid a shot to the far left corner of the goal for a 1-0 Wall lead.

"It was a long ball that Pepe flicked on and it was a play that happens a lot - the goalie comes out and I just have to beat him there," Perry said. "I was able to get there first and I just had to make sure it was on net."

Junior Philip Lyons twice nearly extended the lead between the 59th and 61st minutes with a pair of dangerous strikes, the first of which may have crossed the goal-line. Lyons blasted a 25-yard strike that hit the bottom of the crossbar and came down close to the goal-side of the line, but the linesman and referee ruled it no goal.

Lyons came right back with a 20-yard blast on target in the 61st that Greenspan parried away with a diving save.

Wall dominated second-half possession and out-shot Ocean, 16-1, over the final 40 minutes to finish with an 18-6 advantage in shots.

"We were struggling to get any possession in the last 10 minutes of the first half and I knew once we switched sides and had the win, we were going to start getting shot after shot," Linstra said. "We just had to keep everything on frame and we got one. Thank God, we got one. We were hoping for a couple more but that was a tremendous effort."

"The wind was a huge factor," Perry said. "Once we had it at our backs, we could start doing what we do well, which is playing long balls and running them down, which is how we got the goal. We rely a lot on our defense, so it was nice to give them a break."

Ocean's surprise run to the Central Jersey Group III final for the third straight year and fourth time in five years came on the heels of a season in which the Spartans graduated nine starters from last year's Group III championship team and missed the Shore Conference Tournament. They bounced back by beating No. 6 Hopewell Valley and No. 3 Steinert by 1-0 tallies and survived a scoreless draw and penalty kicks against No. 15 Lawrence to make it back to the championship round.

The Spartans had no answer for Wall on Oct. 7, when the two met in the Shore Conference Class B North finale for both teams. Wall beat Ocean, 2-0, at Wall Municipal Complex to officially clinch the B North title.

On Friday, Wall again won a championship by beating its B North rival and also avenged a 2-0 loss to the Spartans in last year's Central Group III semifinals. The last time Wall played in a sectional final was 2013, when the Crimson Knights fell at Allentown, 2-1.

There is a rich championship history in boys soccer at Wall, which won four straight Group III championships from 1978 to 1981 - a tradition this group hopes to reinvigorate with two more wins and a sixth Group III championship.

That pursuit continues Wednesday at Toms River North High School, where the Crimson Knights will play South Jersey champion Triton - 2-0 winners over Ocean City.

"It was hugely important for this senior class to leave their legacy and make a mark in the long history of Wall soccer," Linstra said.

"We know we've got two more games to go," Perry said. "This is great, but we want to win that last game so we can get that ring."

Box Score

Wall 1, Ocean 0

Wall (16-4-1)011
Ocean (10-10-1)000

Goal (Assist): (W) Thomas Perry (Jake Pepe) 45'
Shots: Wall, 18-6
Saves: (O) Isaac Greenspan 7; (W) Sebastian Campanile 3

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