Boys Soccer – Lacey Eying B South Title After Finally Conquering Pinelands
LACEY TWP. - Lacey boys soccer coach Steve Torre was cautiously optimistic heading into the 2021 season that had the most capable roster in his five seasons as head coach and that, perhaps, that would mean an elusive Shore Conference Class B South division title.
Forty minutes into Wednesday showdown with four-time defending B South winner Pinelands, Torre was wondering if his team was just snake-bitten when it came to overcoming the division's torch-bearer of the last half-decade.
Instead, the Lions mounted a bounceback second-half that carried them to a resounding 3-1 win over Pinelands to remain unbeaten and move closer to capturing a Class B South title.
Wednesday's win snapped Lacey's seven-game losing streak against Pinelands, which dates back to the 2016 season - the last season Pinelands did not finish first place in the Class B South standings.
"We were sitting back, we weren't winning 50-50 balls and we were letting (Pinelands) dictate the game in the first half," Torre said. "When you lose to a team five years in a row, you start to have that big-brother-little-brother feeling, so I think we really had to regroup at halftime, because we were shell-shocked.
Last year, Pinelands beat Lacey twice - once on a golden goal in the final seconds of the second overtime and again, 1-0, on a penalty kick.
"Our guys were confident they were better and that they could beat (Pinelands), but the first 20 minutes probably damaged their confidence a little bit," Torre said. "It's been a very unlucky run the last couple years, so it felt good to get that one."
Junior Logan Gross got the comeback started in the 46th minute with a game-tying strike from 30 yards out and Lacey caught a break in the 53rd when a ball into the box from senior Dom Iorio - who assisted Gross's goal - took an unpredictable bounce near the penalty spot, hit a Pinelands defender and got past Pinelands sophomore goalkeeper Aaron Johnson for an own goal.
Armed with a 2-1 lead, Lacey stayed on the attack for the remainder of the half, staved off a couple of dangerous looks from Pinelands senior striker and leading scorer Stephen DeMilio, and put the game away when senior Jay Marchitello drilled a tracer to the upper left corner of the goal from 25 yards out in the final minute.
That second-half surge was a reversal from the first half, during which Lacey came out slow and fell behind when in the 10th minute, Pinelands senior James Cahill stole the ball between midfield and the top of the Lacey 18-yard box, then unleashed a 30-yard, left-foot strike that found the back of the net for a 1-0 Wildcats lead.
Lacey wore down Pinelands in the midfield during the second half, with the Wildcats missing standout midfielder Adam Grelak, who is out for the season with a leg injury.
The Lions warded off further damage thanks to a pair of saves by junior Ryan Fitzgerald and 6-foot-4 senior center back Kody Besser's effort in shutting down the Lacey box, particularly in the air.
Besser was an All-Shore and All-County defender as a junior, is a four-year starter, and is the centerpiece of a 2021 Lions team that remains unbeaten and will have a chance to win the Class B South title.
"It is very fortunate that we have Kody back there," Torre said. "He is virtually unbeatable in the air and he doesn't let much of anything get through either. We weren't playing well in the first half, but day-in and day-out, Kody puts on his Superman cape and leads us, which he did again today."
Point Pleasant Boro is 7-0 overall with a 4-0 division record and appears to be the other contender to win the outright Class B South championship. Lacey is slated to visit Point Boro a week from Thursday, on Sept. 30.
"I thought we could sneak up on some people this year," Torre said. "I thought we might be a little bit overlooked because we lost most of our scoring, but we still brought back seven starters and all of our defenders. In past years, we have been a hard-nosed, lunch-pail team that outworks the other team. We still want to have that mentality, but I think this is the most technically sound team since I have been the head coach, so I really felt like the potential was there to have a really good season."