Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Sectional Final Preview
One year after the Shore Conference went 5-0 in the sectional finals, six teams from the conference will play for sectional championships on Thursday in six different sections. Asbury Park and Toms River South will host their respective championship games, while Christian Brothers Academy plays as the No. 1 seed on a neutral field in the South Jersey Non-Public A final. Middletown North, Marlboro and Rumson-Fair Haven, meanwhile, will travel for their respective title showdowns.
Of that group, two (CBA and Toms River South) are looking to repeat, two (Middletown North and Asbury Park) are looking to end long title droughts and the last two (Rumson and Marlboro) are looking to win their first ever sectional championship. Below is a quick glance at each of the six sectional championship matchups.
North Jersey Section 2 Group III
No. 6 Middletown North at No. 1 Hopewell Valley, 2 p.m.
Middletown North’s run to the sectional final has basically been a sequel of last year’s run to the sectional semifinals. Last year, the Lions beat Chatham and Summit before losing to Hopewell Valley. This year, they beat Chatham in penalty kicks, beat Summit following a win over Orange and will now play the top-seeded Bulldogs again.
The Middletown North players, most of whom played in last year’s tournament run, hope for a different ending this year. They stormed out to a 2-0 first-half lead against Hopewell last year, but came undone in the second half on the way to a 4-0 loss. Middletown North is healthier heading into its first sectional final since e 1999 and is geared up to challenge for its first sectional title since 1991.
Central Jersey Group IV
No. 3 Marlboro at No. 1 Hunterdon Central, 5 p.m.
Not only has Marlboro made its first run to a sectional final since 2004, but has done so with three consecutive overtime wins. The run started out with emotions running high with P.J. Ringel scoring a golden goal the day after the passing of his father and continued with a Zach Scarpa golden goal in the sectional quarterfinals and another by Ringel against Manalapan on Monday.
The opponent Thursday will be a Hunterdon Central team that has lost just once this year and has allowed only five goals over the course of the season without giving up more than one in any single game. Marlboro has only lost two games and they were both to CBA, so this is a matchup of top public school programs that have only lost to one team each – Scotch Plains-Fanwood in Hunterdon Central’s case.
Central Jersey Group III
No. 8 Allentown at No. 2 Toms River South, 2 p.m.
For the third straight year, Toms River South will play in a sectional championship game when the Indians host an Allentown team that has caught fire at the right time. Toms River South made it all the way to the Group III final last year and has found the move from South Jersey Group III up to the Central Jersey bracket a favorable one.
With each game, the Indians have been more and more impressive. They needed a shootout to beat No. 15 Long Branch in the first round, beat a hot Steinert team 2-0 and rolled through Wall 3-0 in Monday’s sectional semifinal. Now, they play an Allentown team that had fallen on hard times early in the season but has rallied in the NJSIAA Tournament by winning three straight games – including one against No. 1 Ocean – to improve from 5-9-1 to 8-9-1.
Central Jersey Group II
No. 13 Rumson-Fair Haven at No. 2 Bernards, 2 p.m.
Rumson’s season appeared to be lost when the Bulldogs failed to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament well before the cutoff date. That is the beauty of the state tournament, though. With a new lease on life in 2016, Rumson has taken full advantage of their opportunity to salvage their season. A run to the sectional final has already salvaged it and they can turn this from a lost season to a banner one by pulling off one more upset.
While Rumson has been able to play the road warrior role to this point by beating No. 4 North Plainfield, No. 5 Spotswood and No. 9 Holmdel, No. 2 Bernards will likely be the toughest challenge of the four. The Mountaineers are one win shy of 20 for the season and their loss and tie both came against Gill St. Bernard’s. The Bulldogs, however, have shown an ability to rise to the occasion this year – even in the game against Don Bosco that turned out to the be a scrimmage – and one more such performance would yield the program’s first ever sectional title under some of the most improbable of circumstances.
Central Jersey Group I
No. 3 Palmyra at No. 1 Asbury Park, 2 p.m.
Asbury Park has its best team in three decades and can highlight its historic season by winning Friday’s sectional final. The Blue Bishops began their state tournament run with a nail-biting, 1-0 overtime win over No. 16 Middlesex and have since defeated New Egypt 3-0 and defending sectional champion South River in overtime to reach Thursday’s title game against a dangerous Palmyra team.
The only common opponent between Palmyra and Asbury Park is New Egypt, which Palmyra lost to in the first meeting between the teams and defeated, 3-0, in the more recent meeting. Asbury Park is set up to make a two-year run, but it’s hard to make a sectional title run and Asbury Park has in front of it a golden opportunity to seize the day on its home field.
South Jersey Non-Public A
At Eastern High School
No. 1 CBA vs. No. 2 St. Augustine, 4 p.m.
In a rematch of last year’s South Jersey Non-Public A final, CBA hopes to beat the Hermits for a second year in a row. Last year, a Matt Thorsheim goal in the final five minutes lifted the Colts to a win in the final and CBA enters this game with a senior-loaded team that has been among the state’s top squads all season. Following an impressive showing in the Shore Conference Tournament, CBA has been slightly more ordinary in two state tournament wins over St. John Vianney and St. Joseph Metuchen.
St. Augustine has been a common Colts nemesis over the years and has faced plenty of quality competition during the course of the year. With a win over South Jersey Group IV finalist Rancocas Valley, a draw against South Jersey Group III finalist Mainland, and a 2-1 loss to a Delran team currently ranked No. 1 in the state. While CBA might get a stiff test, it’s probably a welcome challenge for a Colts team with aspirations to go beat either Seton Hall Prep or Delbarton in Sunday’s state final.