LACEY TWP. - Pinelands head coach Nino Scotto di Carlo was not too concerned about his team regressing after graduating three notable goal-scorers from last year's NJSIAA South Jersey Group III runner-up but he did figure his young group would have to make up for a loss of goal-scoring creativity.

Enter Johnny Hart.

The junior midfielder scored two superb goals Tuesday in a 2-0 win over Lacey to give him four goals in the season's first three games and help his Wildcats set the pace in the Shore Conference Class B South race.

Hart was the second-leading scorer on last year's team but opposing defenses were regularly geared-up to stop forwards Kieran Sundermann and Dom Dos Santos, as well as midfielder Anthony Diaz. Now at the literal and figurative center of the Pinelands attack, Hart is showing he can carry a goal-scoring effort early in his junior season.

Pinelands junior Johnny Hart. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Pinelands junior Johnny Hart. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"We don't have that threat like Dom who can just run onto a ball but we have skilled guys who can create chances for us," Hart said. "We knew we were going to have to be a team that keeps the ball on the floor and trusts one another and I thought we did that really well today.

"Coming off a pretty good year, I would say, I was confident coming into this year. We have a few other players on this team who can make big plays so that has made it easy."

"Kieran, Dom and Diaz were able to create and score out of nothing," Scotto di Carlo said. "We have those kind of players this year, we're just trying to convince them. Johnny is obviously dynamic. He has all kinds of skill but he is only a junior, and we have have some guys like that who are just learning what they are capable of."

On Tuesday, Hart opened up the scoring against the Lions in the 27th minute with a shot he said he has been working on in practice. After Lacey attempted to clear the ball following a scrum in the box, Pinelands senior Tony Aguilar played the ball back toward the far left post.

Hart lined it up and one-timed a scissor-kick out of the air and inside the near post to open the scoring.

"I knew (Aguilar) saw me on the back post," Hart said. "I have been throwing the bicycle kick in practice a few times lately so the chance to do it in a game came up and it happened to go in."

Pinelands controlled the play for most of the match but did not notch its insurance goal until the 76th. Hart hustled to keep the ball in bounds on the right side of the field, dribbled past a wave of defenders heading toward the middle of the field, and stroked a left-footed shot to the far left side netting from 18 yards out to give him his second goal on the day.

Along with Aguilar and sophomore Adam Grelak, Hart controlled the middle of the field throughout Tuesday's game. In the back, sophomore James Cahill ran the defense in front of junior Gavin Harris, who picked up his first shutout of 2019.

"We did lose some great players, that's pretty obvious," Scotto di Carlo said. "We don't have size but we have plenty of skill and the last few years we have been knocking the ball around. That's been our philosophy and our tactic so I didn't see any reason to change that. These guys are very coachable and very teachable and they understand our tactical approach to the game."

"We have a really good player in James Cahill back there leading our defense," Hart said. "He is solid back there so we have a lot of trust in him."

Pinelands started five seniors, with Creed Nass, Tyler Piazza, Jack Doyle and Alex Dimm filling out the lineup along with Aguilar.

Lacey's best chance to score came after Hart's second goal, with junior Noah Hamouda getting a step on the last defender and missing a shot just wide of the right post from 12 yards away.

Pinelands and Lacey finished in the top two spots in B South last season and Pinelands is now positioned to make a run at its third straight division championship after it had waited 28 years between titles from 1989 and 2017. The Wildcats are also hoping the foundation is still in place to make it back to the South Jersey Group III title game.

"It was emotional losing that last game (to Seneca) last year," Hart said. "We knew we had a point to prove to the Shore Conference and we want to shock people."

Box Score

Pinelands 2, Lacey 0

Pinelands (2-1)112
Lacey (1-1)000

Goals (Assists): (P) Johnny Hart (Tony Aguilar) 27', Johnny Hart 76'
Shots: Pinelands, 14-6
Saves: (P) Gavin Harris 2; (L) Garrett Sayre 5

More From Shore Sports Network