Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals

At Central Regional High School

If the forecast is correct, Thursday night will be a very damp, cold setting in Bayville – the site of the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time. Four programs with recent success in boys soccer earned a trip to the dance and three of those teams are from the Shore Conference Class A North division. Marlboro and Freehold Township have been the top two public school teams in the division all season and Christian Brothers Academy has been the No. 1 ranked team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 from the outset. Toms River North is the fourth team in the mix after a strong finish to their regular season and a convincing win over Holmdel in the SCT quarterfinals.

It’s hard to predict if and how the weather will impact Thursday night’s games. While rain can be an equalizer in some instances, it can also give an advantage to the faster team that is able to control the ball and attack. However it plays out, the four teams playing tonight will try to survive the conditions – as well as their opponent – to earn a spot in Saturday’s championship game at Central.

SCT Quarterfinal Picks Record: 4-0

Tournament Picks Record: 13-7


Freehold Township's Adrian Barjas (left) and Marlboro's Josh Grun will meet for a third time on Thursday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

(2) Marlboro (16-1-1) vs. (6) Freehold Township (11-5-1), 5 p.m.

Not only do these two Class A North staples have a history of battles within the division race, but they have also locked up in a couple noteworthy Shore Conference Tournament games and the history favors the Patriots. Both times Freehold Township has won the SCT in the last decade, the Patriots went through Marlboro to do it. In 2008, they beat the Mustangs, 3-1, in the SCT championship game for the program’s first outright conference title and in 2014, the Patriots ended the Mustangs’ Cinderella run with a 1-0 decision in the SCT quarterfinals.

That trip to the SCT quarterfinals as a No. 19 seed two years ago was the foundation for this year’s run by Marlboro, whose only loss this season came in overtime against CBA on Sept. 13 – the team’s second game of the season. During the ensuing 16-game unbeaten streak, only one team has even tied the Mustangs and that just so happens to be Freehold Township. In that game, the teams traded goals in the final five minutes of regulation, with Adrian Barajas scoring a go-ahead goal for Freehold Township in the 77th and P.J. Ringel answering for Marlboro less than a minute later. One key subplot in that game was that Marlboro goalkeeper James Weinberg was out with a concussion and has since returned. Weinberg is widely regarded by coaches as the Shore’s top keeper.

Freehold Township has been no stranger to in-game drama this season, with two wild wins already in this tournament. It took two highlight-reel goals to beat Point Pleasant Boro in Saturday’s Round of 16 and in the next round on Tuesday, the Patriots again rallied from a 1-0 deficit against Jackson Memorial and won in overtime on a Sean O’Donnell header. Marlboro’s games have lacked the same excitement as the Mustangs staved off a pesky Pinelands team, 1-0, before steamrolling Middletown North, 4-0. In both games, the Mustangs missed quality chances and a Marlboro team that is finishing will be very tough to stop.

There aren’t any secrets between these two teams after playing twice this season. Freehold Township has improved over the course of the year with nine new starters, but Marlboro has also done the same with a group of 10 returning starters. For Freehold Township to win, Barajas has to be the best player on the field on Thursday night, just like he was in the 2-2 tie. He is dangerous in the air and on direct kicks, and the Patriots will be playing for those situations. Marlboro is as organized as any team, particularly in the back and to break through against that experienced back line and Weinberg, it will take some creativity and scrappiness – which the Patriots have had in spades this year and certainly in this tournament. The Pick: Marlboro, 1-0

CBA senior Ryan Nigro (16). (Photo by Larry Murphy)

(1) Christian Brothers Academy (18-1) vs. (5) Toms River North (13-4), 7 p.m.

Although these two teams are not as familiar with one another as Marlboro and Freehold Township are, there is some level of familiarity between them. CBA hosted Toms River North in last year’s SCT round of 16 and handed the Mariners a 5-0 defeat on its way to a ninth Shore Conference Tournament title. Toms River North will now be tasked with not only finding a way to make this year’s meeting more competitive, but to also come out of the winning side of a more competitive matchup. Mariners coach Joe Mahon has taken two other teams to the SCT semifinals in his seven years as head coach and run into CBA both times. Toms River North played CBA very tough for the first half of the 2010 final before the Colts opened the game up in the second half and won, 3-0. In 2011, CBA beat Toms River North 2-0 on a rainy Thursday night to advance to the championship game and would go on to finish the season 21-0.

This CBA team is not quite at the level of the 2011 squad, but these Colts are at least worthy of the comparison. CBA enters the game with just one loss and it came last week at the hands of red-hot Marlboro with Colts senior center back Scott Misson out with a red card from the previous game. If not for what the Colts staff saw as a questionable red card, CBA might still be pursuing a perfect season. Instead, the Colts will continue the quest for a 10th SCT title and this matchup is a favorable one for them because CBA has the speed to deal with Toms River North’s outside attack and is organized enough to contain Mariners leading scorer Mitch Reed up top. The strength of this CBA team is its finishing ability around the field, so as long as Toms River North doesn’t put up a big scoring day like it did in a 5-0 win over Holmdel, CBA will have a distinct advantage. The Pick: CBA, 3-0