The Group IV bracket of the NJSIAA Tournament offers the deepest pool of quality teams and that has made for some ultra-competitive late-round competition over the years. As wide-open as the brackets appear to be, however, the results suggest there has been a standout team in both the Central and South Jersey sections in more recent years.

Washington Township has been the standout program in South Jersey on account of its five-year run of sectional championships. Central Jersey has been far more competitive, with six different champions over the last seven years. Hunterdon Central is the one team to win twice during that run and the Red Devils have routinely been in the mix, as they should be this year.

Neither Washington nor Hunterdon Central is the top seed in their respective brackets and more than any year in the last five, it remains a real mystery which teams will be playing in the south side of the Group IV semifinal as sectional champions.

Central Jersey Group IV

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Marlboro, No. 4 Freehold Township, No. 10 Middletown South, No. 13 Long Branch, No. 15 Manalapan
Defending Champion: No. 7 East Brunswick
Top Seed: Marlboro
Favorite: No. 2 Hunterdon Central. The Red Devils are always a team to beat at this time of year and appear to be peaking at the right time. With that being said, it’s hard to assign a favorite in Central Jersey Group IV with the likes of Freehold Township, GMC Tournament finalists East Brunswick and South Brunswick, Monroe, Princeton and Marlboro lurking.
Darkhorse: Long Branch. Few teams have tested themselves as much as Long Branch has throughout the year and the Green Wave should be ready to take a shot at a long run. It is a good thing too that Long Branch played a tough schedule because its road to the final looks arduous. It starts with a trip to Freehold Township and if the Wave emerge, it would have to travel to either Princeton or South Brunswick with the winner looking at a likely trip to top-seeded Marlboro for the sectional semifinals. Middletown South and Manalapan pose threats on the bottom of the bracket and Middletown South is one year removed from winning a first-round game as a No. 15 seed, which is what Manalapan will try to do at Hunterdon Central.
Bracket Overview: Central Jersey Group IV is always a battle royale and an early-round upset typically shapes which direction the bracket goes. With some really dangerous double-digit seeds in No. 10 Middletown South, No. 12 South Brunswick and No. 13 Long Branch, there is some potential for a surprise team in the semifinals and perhaps even the final. Freehold Township is the hot team in the field but will likely have to get by some familiar faces on the way to the final. If the Patriots keep playing how they have been playing since the last week of September, they should make up one half of the championship game.

Freehold Township junior Zach Orrico. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Round-by-Round Picks

Opening Round

(1) Marlboro over (16) Montgomery

(8) New Brunswick over (9) North Brunswick

(5) Princeton over (12) South Brunswick

(4) Freehold Twp. over (13) Long Branch

(3) Monroe over (14) West Windsor-Plainsboro South

(6) Hillsborough over (11) Edison

(10) Middletown South over (7) East Brunswick

(2) Hunterdon Central over (15) Manalapan

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Marlboro over (8) New Brunswick

(4) Freehold Township over (5) Princeton

(3) Monroe over (6) Hillsborough

(2) Hunterdon Central over (10) Middletown South

 

Semifinals

(4) Freehold Twp. over (1) Marlboro

(3) Monroe over (2) Hunterdon Central

 

Championship

(4) Freehold Twp. over (3) Monroe

 

South Jersey Group IV

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 4 Jackson Memorial, No. 5 Southern
Defending Champion: No. 6 Washington Township
Top Seed: Clearview
Favorite: Clearview. It’s hard to go against Washington Township – winners of five straight South Jersey IV championships – and even as a No. 6 seed, the Minutemen are among the top tier of contenders in the section. Clearview, however, has been the team-to-beat throughout the year and the road to the title will go through the Pioneers. The two teams faced off twice during the season, finishing in a scoreless draw the first time and Clearview winning a shootout in the South Jersey Coaches’ Tournament semifinal. A loss to Moorestown in the tournament final on Saturday was just the second of the season for Clearview and the Colonials will try to return the form that helped them beat the Quakers, as well as Delran and Kingsway, during the season.
Darkhorse: No. 15 Lenape. As is the case with Central Jersey Group IV, the double-digit seeds are routinely dangerous in South Jersey IV and Lenape jumps off the page. The Indians enter the tournament with a winning record (8-7-3) after winning four straight games. They have been one of the state’s streakier teams and it appears as though Lenape is trending in the right direction heading into Tuesday. The three Shore teams in the bracket could all be involved in first-round upsets as well: Toms River North has the firepower to contend with Clearview, while Jackson Memorial and Southern face tough home games against No. 13 Rancocas Valley and No. 12 Williamstown, respectively.
Bracket Overview: While Washington Township has dominated the bracket for the past half-decade and remains a serious threat to make it six titles in a row, the Minutemen are not the machine they have been for most of the current run. They also have a difficult road to the final, which starts with Cherokee and will likely take them to Kingsway, where the Dragons boast one of the more dangerous rosters in the section. On the other side of the bracket, Southern and Jackson Memorial could be on a collision course for a rematch, with the winner getting a chance to take down top-seeded Clearview. Jackson Memorial came up one win short of a championship last year and this could be the Jaguars’ best chance to win a sectional championship for the first time since 1990.

Southern junior Kevin Kiernan (left) and Jackson Memorial senior Ron Bantang (right) race for the ball. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Round-by-Round Picks

Opening Round

(1) Clearview over (16) Toms River North

(9) Eastern over (8) Cherry Hill East

(5) Southern over (12) Williamstown

(4) Jackson Memorial over (13) Rancocas Valley

(3) Kingsway over (14) Atlantic Tech

(6) Washington Twp. over (11) Cherokee

(7) Shawnee over (10) Millville

(15) Lenape over (2) Egg Harbor

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Clearview over (9) Eastern

(5) Southern over (4) Jackson Memorial

(3) Kingsway over (6) Washington Twp.

(7) Shawnee over (15) Lenape

 

Semifinals

(1) Clearview over (5) Southern

(3) Kingsway over (7) Shawnee

 

Championship

(1) Clearview over (3) Kingsway

 

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