Boys Soccer – SCT Semifinal Preview, Predictions
Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals (Bracket)
Monday, Oct. 22
At Point Pleasant Boro High School
The final four teams in the Shore Conference Tournament were the first four teams in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10, so these matchups have been anticipated all season long, even after some of the teams already played one another. If you like variety, the good news is the two matchups on Monday night at Al Saner Fielder will be first-time meetings between the teams this season. In the case of Jackson Memorial and CBA, it will be the first time the two storied programs have met in 25 years.
The underlying story that has developed over the last two weeks is Holmdel’s return to dominance and whether it will be too much for any of the other three teams to handle. Ocean is first up to try to expose the Hornets while CBA and Jackson try to settle a month-long debate regarding which is currently the No. 2 team at the Shore.
No. 2 Jackson Memorial (13-1) vs. No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy (14-3), 5 p.m.
For the first time in 25 years, the two most accomplished programs in the history of the Shore Conference Tournament will meet when Jaguars and Colts clash in the first game on Wednesday night. CBA’s 10 conference tournament titles are more than any other team in the 34-year history of the tournament and coming in at No. 2 behind the Colts is Jackson Memorial with six championships. While CBA last won an SCT championship two years ago, Jackson won all six of its titles during a seven-year stretch from 1986 to 1992 and has not been back to an SCT final since.
The last time the two programs have met in the tournament was 1993, when CBA beat the Jaguars to advance to the SCT final, which the Colts won over Raritan. Five years earlier, the two teams met in the final in a game that ended in a scoreless draw – the last time the SCT final ended in a tie and, thus, with co-champions. Current Jackson Memorial head coach Steve Bado played on that 1988 Jackson team and has been hard at work for the past 13 seasons trying to get his alma mater back to the top of the Shore Conference mountain. Under Bado, the Jaguars have reached the semifinal round of the SCT four times prior to this season and are still looking to pick up a win in the round.
This year’s matchup will feature a CBA team that has been somewhat inconsistent scoring goals but can still possess the ball as well as any team in the state and has only really had one slip-up this year – a 1-0 loss at Howell. Perhaps the final scores against teams like Lakewood, Freehold Boro and Long Branch were closer than most observers might have expected, but the Colts also handled some higher-ranked teams like Manalapan, Freehold Township, East Brunswick, Delran and Marlboro.
Jackson counters with a team that will play similarly to Jaguars teams of recent vintage in that they won’t try to play in the midfield against a team like CBA. They will look to win the ball, get it forward and get up shots. What distinguishes this Jackson team from the ones that reached the semifinals in 2006, 2007 and 2012 is none of those teams had a player who combined the creativity, skill and finishing ability that Dan Russo has. Anthony Mandola was a pure finisher on the 2012 team and Ben Rodkey in 2006 was a superior facilitator from the midfield, but less of a pure goal-scorer. Even last year’s SCT semifinalist team didn’t have a player at that level because Russo is a better player now than he was a year ago.
At this stage of the tournament, something like this gets said every year: CBA is going to dominate possession in the game and Jackson will not care. The Jaguars are going to defend and push the ball up to Joe Schlageter and Russo. CBA got burned once facing a team that just defended and countered (Howell) and Jackson got burned once while conceding possession in a loss to Southern, but the two teams are used to facing what they are about to see on Monday. The only difference is the ability of the opponent will be better than usual. It’s a tough call, but this CBA team is experienced in games of this magnitude and is probably a little bit more cut out for the turf. The possession will get the Colts chances and more times than not, chances equal goals.
The Pick: CBA, 3-2
No. 1 Holmdel (15-0) vs. No. 4 Ocean (14-3), 7 p.m.
The SCT history between Holmdel and Ocean is far more recent than that of CBA and Jackson and also far less even. Last year, Holmdel capped a dominant run through the Shore Conference Tournament by pummeling the Spartans, 7-1, in the championship game on Ocean’s home field. Anthony Arena scored a SCT championship game record five goals to lead the way in a game in which his team fell behind, 1-0, and did not take the lead until the 39th minute. For the last year, Ocean’s many returning players have had to bear the burden of being on the other end of that memorable performance by Arena and Holmdel and will be looking to exorcise some serious demons.
Arena has not had the same kind of season that he had last year due to a hamstring injury he suffered in Holmdel’s third game of the season. Despite playing in only nine games this year, Arena has still posted 11 goals and eight assists, which puts him on a similar pace to last year, when he put up 35 goals and 25 assists. With his goal in Friday’s win over Southern, Arena tied Zach Bond for the all-time program lead in goals with 58.
Holmdel has also been a different team with Arena on the field. In the six games he missed, Holmdel averaged 2.67 goals per game and in the nine with Arena making at least an appearance, the Hornets have averaged an even four. Injuries have also forced senior defenders Jack Russo and Mark Walier to miss time but overall, the Hornets enter the thick of postseason play as healthy as they have been all season. Even with Russo and Walier missing some time, Holmdel has still allowed just six goals in 15 games this season.
Ocean returns seven starters from last year’s SCT and Central Jersey Group III finalist and new center midfielder Leo Montesinos is very familiar with Holmdel after battling the Hornets twice per year in Class A Central as a member of Shore Regional’s 2016 and 2017 teams. Montesinos is part of an impressive midfield that is also getting significant contributions from Luke Yates, James Schutz and Rob Lopes and will have to be a huge factor on Monday night. Forward and leading scorer Santieno Harding will also have to make the most of every chance against the stingy Holmdel defense and keeper Jack Murray.
Holmdel has steadily built its offensive arsenal to the point that the Hornets are not much easier to deal with than the 2017 team was. They don’t have the second 25-goal scorer that Justin McStay was but junior Jack Giamanco is on pace for 20 goals jumping from midfield to forward and Ryan Ferguson brings some of what McStay did to the table. Throw in Joe Arena and Mark McStay holding down the midfield and this Holmdel team might, indeed, be on par with last year’s. They still have to bring home two championships but if they do, these Hornets will do something the 2017 did not: go unbeaten. With that now on the line, the pressure mounts but the motivation is immeasurable.
The Pick: Holmdel, 3-0
Quarterfinals Picks Record: 4-0
Overall Picks Record: 16-6
Correction: The last time CBA and Jackson Memorial played was in the 1993 Shore Conference Tournament. This post originally stated it was in the 1988 final.