Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Central East Tournament Preview: Group III
Update, Friday, Nov. 13, 10:30 p.m.: Middletown North has withdrawn from the tournament, giving Matawan a bye into the semifinals. This post has been edited to reflect the change.
Central East – North
(8) JFK-Iselin at (1) Colts Neck, winner vs. (4) Matawan
(6) Colonia at (3) Wood-Ridge, winner at (2) Cranford
Withdrew: No. 5 Middletown North, No. 7 Summit
The Favorite: Colts Neck
Colts Neck scored only two goals this past week and is still averaging better than 4.5 goals per game to lead the Shore Conference. The Cougars were disappointed to drop two competitive, 2-1 losses to Wall but most teams struggle to score on Wall at all, so two goals in two games is not too shabby. Colts Neck has a chance to regroup over the weekend, play a winnable opening-round game vs. Iselin-Kennedy and get geared up to play an upset-minded Matawan in the semifinals.
Middletown North withdrew its name from the tournament as part of COVID-19 protocol, which takes a potential sleeper out of the field and further thins out an already-shallow section. With its experience, quality defenders on the backline, athletic goalkeeper in Alex Bogues and a pair of dangerous scorers in Aidan Cardella and Denzel Boateng, Middletown North had a chance to make some noise had it stayed in the field. Instead, there remain only six teams left. Colts Neck will, oddly enough, have to play the first round while Matawan gets a bye, but the Cougars may like a chance to get back on the field for a winnable game after tasting defeat twice last week.
(1) Colts Neck over (8) JFK-Iselin
(3) Wood-Ridge over (6) Colonia
Middletown North at Matawan is the intriguing match here, with both teams stumbling into the postseason. Middletown North has lost three in a row to Marlboro and Long Branch (twice) and has played the harder schedule overall, with non-divisional matches with Holmdel and Manchester to go with the typically rugged A North slate – albeit with both games vs. CBA canceled. Matawan, meanwhile, as lost six in a row, but took Wall to overtime during that skid.
(1) Colts Neck over (4) Matawan
(2) Cranford over (3) Wood-Ridge
As previously mentioned, Middletown North could pose some problems for Colts Neck, but the window to knock off the top-seeded Cougars is still a small one and the Lions would have to be close to flawless. Cranford, meanwhile, will have to stay sharp for a week since first-round opponent Summit pulled out of the tournament.
(1) Colts Neck over (2) Cranford
No team in this bracket has a profile that comes even close to the one Colts Neck has engineered over the course of the season and as long as the Cougars keep their confidence after dropping a pair of tough losses to Wall this past week, they look poised to finish the season with a championship.
Central East – South
(9) Red Bank at (8) Toms River South, winner at (1) Wall
(12) Lakewood at (5) Brick
(13) Freehold Boro at (4) Jackson Liberty
(11) Toms River East at (6) Allentown, winner at (3) Lacey
(10) Neptune at (7) Ocean, winner at (2) Pinelands
Withdrew: No. 14 Central
After posting six shutouts in six state tournament games a year ago, Wall enters this year’s NJSIAA Tournament with a perfect 14-0 record following two gritty, dramatic wins over Colts Neck this past week. With Colts Neck in the northern end of the Central East Region, Wall will be the overwhelming favorite to capture the championship in the South, which would complete an undefeated season should the Crimson Knights finish the job.
Pinelands and Lacey are the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively, and are a bit of a mystery given that neither got a chance to test themselves outside of the Class B South division this season. That is true of almost every team in every Shore Conference divisions, but B South teams have not made a lot of postseason noise in recent years, save for a trip to the South Jersey Group III final by Pinelands in 2018. Both have talent and experience so their side of the bracket will provide an informative look at hope a number of different divisions stack up against one another.
Wall could get a couple of challenges on the way to the championship game, with the winner of Toms River South and Red Bank travelling to Wall in the quarterfinals and a talented Brick side potentially awaiting in the semifinal round if the Green Dragons can shake off a four-game losing streak.
With a dominant team like Wall looming in the top half of the bracket, the real fun will on the other side. Pinelands and Lacey are the highest seeds, but No. 6 Allentown, No. 7 Ocean, No. 10 Neptune and No. 11 Toms River East are all legitimate threats to reach the championship game.
Out of that whole group, Neptune is the one hitting its stride at the moment. Led by senior Marvin Muñoz Garcia The Scarlet Fliers have won six straight and even in dropping to 1-7, they played Colts Neck tough in a competitive 2-0 loss. Getting through Ocean and Pinelands will be difficult, but having to stand in front of the steamrolling freight train that Neptune has been might be even tougher.
(9) Red Bank over (8) Toms River South
(5) Brick over (12) Lakewood
(4) Jackson Liberty over (13) Freehold Boro
(6) Allentown over (11) Toms River East
(10) Neptune over (7) Ocean
Toms River South-Red Bank, Ocean-Neptune and Allentown-Toms River East will be three of the better games in the Central East Region on Saturday and all three road teams are entering the opening round playing their best soccer of the season.
Red Bank has been shut down for precautionary reasons related to COVID-19 but will be back out on the field in Toms River Saturday to see if it can pick up where it left off prior to the stoppage.
Toms River East won three games in a row before tying Central this past week. The Raiders have a solid senior core that will take on a Redbirds side that is routinely a threat in Central Group III.
Ocean recently ended a six-game winless streak by clipping Red Bank Catholic, 2-1, and have been on the opposite trajectory of Neptune after starting the season 5-0. The two have been B North rivals for many years before Ocean switched to Class A Central this year, so there should be plenty of juice to this match-up.
(1) Wall over (9) Red Bank
(5) Brick over (4) Jackson Liberty
(3) Lacey over (6) Allentown
(10) Neptune over (2) Pinelands
Wall and Red Bank last played on the opening weekend of the season and since then, Red Bank has gained confidence. Jackson Liberty and Brick have both had breakthrough seasons, with Brick scoring a big win over Southern a little more than two weeks ago. A trip to a sectional semifinal of any kind would be a big accomplishment for either squad.
Lacey has played well all season, with both its losses coming to Pinelands in close games. The Lions hosting Allentown would be a high-level sectional quarterfinal, as would either Neptune or Ocean at Pinelands. The Wildcats have one of the brackets best players in Johnny Hart so while Neptune is the hot team and teams like Wall, Ocean and Toms River South have a more developed championship pedigree, Pinelands should be considered a threat.
(1) Wall over (5) Brick
(3) Lacey over (10) Neptune
With a win over Southern, Brick can feel good about its chances vs. Wall. The Green Dragons have two capable forwards in Zack Meyer and Sean Palmer so Wall’s defense would have to have a typically-strong game to avoid the upset. At this point, that should be expected from the Crimson Knights.
Whichever team makes it to a potential championship game against Wall will have earned its way. In Lacey’s case, beating Allentown or Toms River East will be difficult and clearing any of Neptune, Pinelands or Ocean in the semifinals might be even tougher. The Lions have some real scoring threats in Noah Hamouda, George-Kyle Hernandez and D.J. Edinger and one of the Shore’s better center backs in Kody Besser so the pieces are in place to make this run.
(1) Wall over (3) Lacey
This actually has a chance to be a competitive game that would likely by a 1-0 win for either side. With Wall on a 20-game unbeaten streak, locked in defensively and experienced with championships on the line, the Crimson Knights will have an edge in every game they play the rest of the way.