Boys Soccer – SCT Quarterfinal Preview and Predictions
An unpredictable tournament is always a fun prospect as long as you’re not tasked with predicting it. Before the Shore Conference Tournament was even seeded, several coaches voiced that this would be one of the more wide-open tournaments of recent vintage, and although it doesn’t quite match 2014 when a No. 25 seed reached the semifinals and a No. 11 won the whole thing, that prediction has come to pass so far. Among the final eight teams is a Matawan team that has never previously reached the SCt quarterfinals, as well as the Nos. 19 and 20 seeds in the tournament.
Maybe the tournament has not been unpredictable so much as I have been unable to predict it. A 9-7 record is good if you are picking against a spread and also a requisite record for a New York Giants Super Bowl championship, but other than that, it is nothing to be proud of. After a very paltry 4-4 round of 16, it might be time to swallow some chalk and get back to respectability. Then again, this tournament might be immune to such medicine.
Round of 16 Picks Record: 4-4
2016 SCT Picks Record: 9-7
(19) Jackson Memorial at (6) Freehold Twp., 3 p.m.
Any team that reaches the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals feels good about itself heading into Tuesday’s action, but these two teams are flying especially high after their respective wins on Saturday. Jackson Memorial vanquished Class A South rival Toms River South and reached the SCT quarters as a No. 19 seed after battling injuries and inconsistency throughout its regular-season schedule. Freehold Township, meanwhile, beat a streaking Point Boro team behind two sensational goals by Adrian Barajas a Jon Finocchiaro. When the brackets first came out, the Patriots were probably planning for a trip to Toms River in the quarterfinals, but now they get an extra home game thanks to Jackson Memorial’s Cinderella run.
Although Freehold Township gets the advantage in venue, this draw is not going to make things easy. The Jaguars are a committed defensive program with a legitimate goal-scorer up top who can break down defenses without needing too much support going forward. As previously mentioned, Freehold Township’s defense is not what it has been over the past three seasons and they will have a real problem keeping senior Mike Schoener and some of the young attackers for Jackson Memorial off the board altogether. That means the Patriots will need to put some goals on the board against a team that always has numbers behind the ball. Fortunately for Freehold Township, they are very good on set pieces and Jackson Memorial does not have the size it had during its peak defensive seasons. Those set pieces, corners and restarts will be the key for both teams and I expect the game to come down to one late. Perhaps very late. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 3-2
(8) Matawan at (1) CBA, 3:30 p.m.
With respect to pure, on-field talent, most games that CBA plays this season will be a David-vs.-Goliath match-up but this one goes beyond just the rosters. Matawan actually has one of the better cohesive units in the Shore Conference this season and that will bode well for the Huskies in trying to take down the Colts. On program history, however, this is about as one-sided as it gets. Matawan is playing in its first ever SCT quarterfinal round and to put that into some perspective, that equals the number of times CBA has failed to qualify for the SCT in the history of the storied program. Throw in the fact that the Colts are brimming with Division I skill around the pitch, return an SCT championship nucleus and are arguably still the favorite to finish No. 1 in N.J. at the end of the season, and this looks like a formality.
That, however, would be underestimating the Huskies. While Matawan eased off the gas a little too much to end its regular season, the Huskies were all business in a 1-0 win over Wall on Saturday. They were organized in the back, possessed the ball in the midfield, and created some early chances before eventually breaking through midway through the second half. Matawan’s collective defense is as good as any other than maybe CBA and Marlboro and the Huskies deserve to at least be mentioned with those two. Jacob Labinger will be able to create in the midfield and it will be up to Matawan’s outside midfielders and forwards to make plays in order to give CBA trouble. If Matawan has a shortcoming in this game, it’s the lack of a bona fide scorer – a straight-ahead player who locks in on the goal and attacks. That’s the kind of player that could potentially sink CBA and unfortunately, Matawan doesn’t have that guy. The midfield and back line will keep the Huskies in it, but they will have to manufacture a goal somehow. They should be game, but probably not game enough. The Pick: CBA, 2-1
(7) Middletown North at (2) Marlboro, 4 p.m.
Marlboro caught a bit of a break when Pinelands senior Matt O’Connell sat out his team’s 1-0 loss to the Mustangs on Saturday with a back injury and an injury could be a factor again after Liam McGregor sustained an injury late in Middletown North’s win over Asbury Park, according to Asbury Park Press reporter Chris Parker. If there is any lasting impact on that front, Middletown North’s task gets much tougher, because McGregor has been a driving force for the Lions during their recent roll. Middletown North has a solid enough team with enough weapons to cover up a deficiency of any kind, but when facing the Shore’s hottest team at the moment, it helps to have every weapon at one’s disposal.
The bottom line for Marlboro: if the Mustangs can replicate their performance from last week against CBA, they won’t lose. They did a tremendous job of limiting CBA’s chances in the second half of that game and were opportunistic on the other end, particularly 17-goal scorer P.J. Ringel. Middletown North has, statistically been the best team in the Shore Conference this season with just nine goals allowed in 16 games, but they have not faced a player that has the athleticism and the motor that Ringel has. On the flip side, finishing is touch-and-go for Ringel and Marlboro, while Middletown North – like Marlboro – has a very strong goalkeeper in Scott Weigel. As much as Middletown North will look to attack Marlboro with Elliot De La Rosa on the outside and Ryan Harmon through the middle to generate some scoring, this game may be more about which back line blinks first and how much Weigel and James Weinberg can bail their respective teams out. This has the makings of the game of the day with a finish to match. The Pick: Marlboro, 1-0 in overtime
(20) Holmdel at (5) Toms River North, 6 p.m.
Holmdel returns to the scene of the crime on Tuesday as the Hornets will step on the same field where Toms River North torched them, 6-0, in last year’s SCT opening round. That loss actually turned into a positive for Holmdel, which made some adjustments and came within three minutes of winning an NJSIAA Group II title. This year, the Hornets appear to be peaking slightly earlier, which is why they are still playing as a No. 20 seed. After falling behind Manasquan, 2-0, in its SCT opener, Holmdel scored six straight goals over two games – which included a shootout win over the Warriors in that opening round and a 4-1 drubbing of No. 4 Ocean on Saturday. Holmdel has been consistently competitive overall this season and the players are now starting to convert their possession into scoring.
The Mariners pulled out a 1-0 overtime win over Central on Saturday and now get to host the same team that it overwhelmed last year. Toms River North physically dominated that match, outworked Holmdel and converted on a number of early chances to ignite the rout. It’s hard to imagine everything falling into place Tuesday like it did last year, but the Mariners will certainly pursue a similar gameplan. Their personnel is also different than it was a year ago, but Toms River North still has the capacity to attack on the outside with its speed, particularly sophomore Nico Garcia. The outsides work well with senior Mitch Reed up top, who facilitates most of the offense. While North will try to work up to Reed, Holmdel will try to make this a midfield game and free up Anthony Arena, who torched Ocean on Saturday. The first few minutes will be key because if neither team can cash in an early chance, this one has the makings of a one-goal game. Holmdel will not get smoked like it did last year, but there is something about the matchup that favors Toms River North. The Pick: Toms River North, 2-1