Boys Soccer – Riley Scores Twice, Lacey Earns Dramatic Win to Close in on B South Title
POINT PLEASANT BORO - Lacey senior captain Kody Besser could hardly see on Thursday afternoon, so trying to play his usual center fullback position for the Lacey boys soccer team in a huge Shore Conference Class B South game at Point Pleasant Boro was basically a non-starter.
Still, with Lacey in hot pursuit of its first division championship in 11 years, the 6-foot-4 senior was not going to let a scratched retina that he suffered in Lacey's Tuesday win over Barnegat keep him off the field entirely. Unable to wear his contact lenses, he would still find a way.
"He couldn't read balls in the air and he couldn't really see anything," Lacey coach Steve Torre said. "He said, 'Coach, I don't think I can play center back today because I don't think I can judge anything in the air.' So we game him a shot in the middle and he's an All-Shore player for a reason, so he just battled and things worked out."
Besser -- an All-Shore defender as a junior -- played 70 minutes either in the midfield and up top for his team and while he didn't find the back of the net, he found the guy who did.
Junior Ethan Riley scored off a Besser assist to quickly answer Point Boro's first goal, then converted a counter-attack for the game-winner in the 76th as the the Lions beat the Panthers, 2-1, to remain unbeaten on the season and atop the Class B South table with two division games remaining.
PHOTO GALLERY: Lacey at Point Boro by Tom Smith
"It was definitely a big change for everybody, especially for the guys up top," Riley said of playing with Besser closer to the front of the formation. "The guys who played in the back, most of them have experience playing in the back, so for the most part, we were okay. Up top, we were able to counter a little faster and he knows how to hold the ball, so there were some positives."
Lacey can clinch the outright B South title with at least a 1-0-1 record vs. Jackson Liberty and Lakewood, or a lesser record combined with help from Lakewood against Pinelands (5-1 division record) and Barnegat against Point Boro (4-2 division record).
After a scoreless first half without any serious threats from either side, Point Boro picked up its pressure and struck first in the 55th minute. Senior Aidan Huhn got around a defender and served the ball to the near left post, where senior Jeff Thompson received it and played it to the far post. Senior Charles Latendorf lined up the cross, slid toward the ball and knocked it in for the game's first goal.
The Panthers lead was short-lived, however. Lacey came right back in the 58th, with Besser sliding a pass to a wide-open Riley for the finish after Lacey quickly worked the ball upfield.
"I was super grateful because I know he totally could have finished that," Riley said. "I was super important (to score quickly). It was like life or death, because we needed this win."
Point Boro dominated possession and made a serious push to score the tie-breaker, but Lacey countered in the 76th, with senior Dom Vecchio playing the ball over the top of the defense and Riley running onto it for the breakaway finish.
"My mind was all over the place when I got to (the ball)," Riley said. "But as soon as I hit it, I knew it was going in.
"As soon as I saw it get played in, I made the run," Riley said. "As soon as I saw it bounce over the (last defender's) head, I just went all-out."
Lacey has also been playing without another center back in junior Mateo Musmanni due to an ankle injury and had to shift senior Bryan Cardoso back to the defense from the front of the formation while trying to patch things together. That challenged the rest of the Lions to weigh the value of helping out in defending their goal vs. going after scoring opportunities on the other end.
"I think we got away from our game of finding feet and keeping the ball on the ground, but when you have a six-four guy with speed up top, it's like having a new toy," Torre said. "Let's let him go and see what happens. It helped in that aspect and although we did get away from our game a little bit, we made adjustments."
With Wednesday's win, Lacey is one of two undefeated teams remaining in the Shore Conference and the other -- Toms River North (6-0) -- is scheduled to travel to play Christian Brothers Academy (8-1) Saturday in a clash of the top two teams in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.
Point Boro, meanwhile, has lost three straight after opening the season 7-0.
"There has only been one division title here in the last 27 years, so it's a big opportunity," Torre said. "We have been knocking on the door for a while now so it's exciting to be in this position, but we still have a lot of work left in front of us."
PHOTO GALLERY: Lacey at Point Boro by Tom Smith