Boys Soccer – Shore Conference Tournament: Breaking Down the Field
The Shore Conference Tournament opens up on Monday and even in a season that has featured two dominant teams, the upcoming week should offer a healthy dose of the unexpected. Of the top 10 teams in the tournament, five were not ranked in the Shore Sports Network at the start of the year, which suggests there has already been an air of unpredictability to the season
With 29 teams qualifying for the tournament, Monday’s schedule will feature 13 games, so two top five teams will have to survive the opening round just to get to the round of 16. While it’s unlikely those teams will lose, those games are still going to be played, which means every possibility is in play.
The following is a look at the possibility of each team making a deep run into the late rounds of the SCT, going from least likely teams to make a run to the most likely.
First-Round Longshots (Teams listed with seeds)
29. St. Rose
The Purple Roses are 0-5 against teams outside of B Central and all five opponents – Wall, Jackson Memorial, Point Boro, Rumson-Fair Haven and Brick Memorial – are in this tournament. First-round opponent Freehold Township is probably going to be the toughest opponent St. Rose has faced, but the fact that the Roses have seen good competition probably helps.
27. Point Pleasant Beach
Point Beach has less experience outside the division compared to St. Rose, but the Garnet Gulls have played better than the Purple Roses of late. Pinelands has had a couple of games this year in which it has struggled to put the ball away, so if the Garnet Gulls can capitalize on a chance or two and catch a break here or there, they could make Pinelands sweat.
Which Team Shows Up?
The Piners split their regular-season series with four of the seven other teams in B South, which is not that unusual. What is unusual how different the scores were in a couple of them. Against Barnegat, Lakewood won the first meeting 4-2 and lost the second one 7-0. Against Point Boro, Lakewood won the first game 1-0 and lost the second 5-0. Ocean is a comparable opponent to Pinelands and Lakewood lost both meetings against the Wildcats by a combined score of 9-1.
The Bengals are sure to be pumped up under the lights at Howell playing in the program’s first Shore Conference Tournament game. They will face a Howell team that is suddenly in a three-game rut after winning eight straight and a win would set up a game against Wall or Brick Memorial, which might be good matchups for Barnegat. The Bengals have only two shutouts this year and have given up the fourth-highest goal total among teams in the tournament, but they are also scoring just under 3.5 goals per game. If they can get on a good run finishing their chances, they can be dangerous.
21. Asbury Park
Up until this week, Asbury Park would not be considered a team that could fall victim to its inconsistency, but losing to Ranney has to raise some concerns. Like Barnegat, Asbury Park does give up goals, so the Blue Bishops are going to have to put up at least two goals to win most games. If Point Boro struggles to score like it did in the middle of the season, Asbury Park could knock them off, but Ocean is a very tough matchup, even if the Blue Bishops have one of the conference’s best players in Davensky JoinVilmar.
Matawan has been a steady team all year, but their chances at advancing hinge more on their opponents rather than the Huskies themselves, who will come ready to play. Toms River South has lost two straight games and has had issues scoring goals for a couple of stretches. Another 80 minutes of crossbars and keeper saves could give Matawan a chance to steal one and that would mean facing either a Rumson team missing its best player or the No. 24 seed in Lacey.
Among all teams seeded in the 20’s, Lacey might have the best shot at a first-round upset given that Rumson will be without standout midfielder Owen Greengrove (concussion). The Lions have four dangerous players in Riley Hunt, Kevin Miller, Dylan Fiedler and Kip Byrne that could break open a game, but keeping opponents off the board has been a problem at times. If Toms River South is the round-of-16 opponent that were to await Lacey after an upset, it might not be the best of matchups for the Lions.
Falcons leading scorer Joel Burgos (22 goals in 11 games) has missed the last two weeks with a deep thigh bruise, but is expected to play in the SCT, according to coach Darren Spadavecchia. With Burgos on the field, Monmouth will be a headache for any opponent, even one that has gone unbeaten over its last five games like Toms River North. The Falcons have a great shot to fly south and knock of the Mariners, but Freehold Township on the road in the next round would be considerably tougher.
16. Middletown South
It goes without saying that the No. 16 seed has a chance to win at home against the No. 17 seed, so in that respect, Middletown South is a first-round threat. It is unlikely, however, that the Eagles will survive the round of 16, should they get that far. CBA awaits the winner of the 16-vs.-17 game and while Middletown South has made great strides this year, the Eagles might not quite be ready to take out the No. 1 team in the tournament.
Everything that goes for Middletown South also applies to Shore. The Blue Devils could very well beat Middletown North on the road to open the tournament, but Holmdel will be waiting in the round of 16. Unlike Middletown South, Shore has already faced its potential round of 16 opponent and it was not pretty. Holmdel swept the season series against Shore by a cumulative scored of 10-2. It’s possible the familiarity will benefit the Blue Devils, but Holmdel is a team on a mission.
15. Middletown North
If CBA and/or Holmdel is to be challenged in their first SCT game, which team is most likely to provide the toughest challenge for each? Middletown North has not been sharp lately, but going back to the early part of the season, the Lions have shown they can beat high-level competition. They beat a top-20 team in N.J. in Westfield and also handed Ocean one of its two losses. They also have a standout player in Liam McGregor who can take over a game for stretches at a time, no matter the opponent.
17. Freehold Boro
While the Colonials have not been able to score on CBA in 160 minutes this year, they have played the No. 1 seed in the tournament tough. Add a playoff atmosphere to the fact that Freehold has been a little more dangerous over the last two weeks and it’s not completely out of the question for the Colonials to knock off CBA, or at least take the Colts to the wire.
First-Round Favorites; Then What?
PHOTO GALLERY: Toms River South at Toms River North by Ray Richardson
13. Toms River North
The Mariners enter the tournament has a hot team and one that has done damage at this time of year when it looked like they were not in line for a deep run just weeks earlier. Toms River North had to go undefeated during a four-game stretch that included Jackson Memorial and Toms Rive South just to get in and the Mariners went 4-0. In that sense, this group has already shown it can handle the pressure-packed game, which will provide necessary experience if Toms River North has to travel to Freehold Township in the round of 16.
12. Point Pleasant Boro
Point Boro will have to contend with Davensky JoinVilmar and Asbury Park in the first round and a trip to Ocean would be the likely next step. The Panthers have not lost in 11 games heading into the SCT and JoinVilmar notwithstanding, they should match up fairly well with Asbury Park. Ocean, meanwhile, is even hotter than Point Boro, having won 10 in a row. The good news for Point Boro is it won’t have to face a Class A North behemoth in the second game of the tournament, although Ocean won’t be much easier.
Potential Road Warriors
22. Toms River East
Toms River East is back to being a competitive A South team and will pose a legitimate threat to a dangerous-but-inconsistent Long Branch team. The Raiders did not fare well against Jackson Memorial or Toms River South – the two best teams in A South – so Long Branch should be safe if the Green Wave is on its game. If not, however, Toms River East can pounce and a win would likely set up a trip to Pinelands. While Pinelands has been excellent this year, the Wildcats have tied Donovan Catholic and have a young team. If they get caught looking ahead, Toms River East is good enough to take advantage.
The Crimson Knights have not had a vintage year by their standards, but they got a good draw in those tournament. Brick Memorial boasts a dangerous attack led by Erik Fatovic, but Wall is built to defend and could very well keep the Mustangs to a goal. This is a Brick Memorial team that tied two-win Brick twice and did not beat Toms River East, so the Crimson Knights have to like their chances. Howell would likely be the next opponent and a Wall vs. Howell game has 1-0 written all over it, which the Crimson Knights, to a man, would likely welcome.
Raritan’s results were all over the map during the regular season: the Rockets failed to beat St. John Vianney in two tries, but they also beat Rumson and made Holmdel sweat in a 2-1 Hornets win. Given what the best version of Raritan has looked like, Southern will be on high alert in round one and Jackson Memorial would have to be as well in the next round. Raritan lost to Jackson Memorial in penalty kicks in last year’s opening round, so this year could mark a chance at redemption for the Rockets.
9. Rumson-Fair Haven
Owen Greengrove suffered a concussion in a 6-2 loss to Holmdel on Tuesday after scoring two goals in the first half and will likely miss the entire Shore Conference Tournament, regardless of how long the Bulldogs hang around. That makes the No. 9 seed vulnerable, but also not hopeless. The Bulldogs have gotten contributions from a lot of players this year and made their Central Jersey Group II run last year without Greengrove as well.
10. Brick Memorial
While Brick Memorial has one of the top scorers in the tournament in Erik Fatovic, it also drew one of the tougher first-round opponents of any team playing at home. Wall has not had its best season, but the Crimson Knights are still a defensively-sound team that has faced off against good competition over the course of the season. As long as Brick Memorial survives the first round, the Mustangs should like their chances against Howell it what amounts to a toss-up game. At that point, the tournament moves to Holmdel for the Mustangs, which would be a nothing-to-lose scenario for Brick Memorial.
The quarterfinals is often where the top seeds are most vulnerable, particularly if they get caught looking ahead to playing at the neutral site in the semifinals. That is essentially what happened to Holmdel the last time the Hornets were the No. 2 seed back in 2010, when Toms River North picked them off as the No. 7 seed. Howell will hope to play the role of Toms River North this year and with two competitive games against CBA under their belt, the Rebels should feel confident about giving Holmdel a run for its money. A three-game losing streak heading into the tournament, however, should also make Howell aware that nothing is a given.
PHOTO GALLERY: Toms River South at Toms River North by Ray Richardson
8. Toms River South
If one of the top two seeds goes down prior to the semifinals, it will likely be CBA at the hands of Toms River South. The Indians have become a battle-test postseason program on a year-to-year basis and have won some of their biggest games on the road. Two years ago, they won at Freehold Township to reach the SCT semifinals, where they nearly took down CBA in a 2-1 loss to the Colts. Toms River South hasn’t been quite as sharp this season, but they have shown flashes of being a top team in the conference and if that version of the Indians shows up to CBA on Friday, the Colts could be in some hot water.
The draw is important in the Shore Conference Tournament and out of all the team seeded worse than No. 10, Southern might have the best draw. The Rams will play a Raritan team that is used to playing on turf in round one and if they win, would play at Jackson Memorial, where Southern beat the No. 3 seed earlier in the year despite playing without leading scorer Ethan Leming. Should Southern reach the quarterfinals, it will be against either a team it beat (Toms River East), a team it lost to in overtime (Pinelands) or a team that has lost to two teams seeded behind Southern (Long Branch).
11. Long Branch
Long Branch’s draw is similar to Southern’s, which makes the Green Wave a serious threat to reach the SCT semifinals. The difference between Long Branch and almost every other team in the field is that when the Green Wave is clicking, it doesn’t matter much who the opponent is. Long Branch has three dynamic players in Renan Azevedo, Venancio Fernandes and Juan Carlos Merino to go along with an underrated supporting cast and an improving keeper. The defense can be suspect at times and finishing sometimes an issue, but now that the games mean something, it stands to reason the Green Wave will be focused and ready to battle.
The Second Tier
The Spartans enter the SCT on the longest winning streak in the Shore Conference, having won its last 10 matches en route to a Class B North title. Ocean was the No. 4 seed as the Class B North co-champion last year and suffered a 4-1 loss to No. 20 Holmdel in its first game, so the Spartans are no shoo-in. On the other hand, this year’s Ocean team is playing much better heading into the tournament than last year’s squad. Lakewood is more dangerous than most No. 28 seeds, so Ocean will have to earn its way to the round of 16, but with the way the Spartans are playing, a trip to at least the quarterfinals seems in order.
The Wildcats played this past week without leading scorer Dominic Dos Santos, but will have the junior striker back for the tournament. The Wildcats played their best soccer earlier in the season, but that should not prevent them from winning their first game against Point Beach. Pinelands’ second-round game will be scarier than Ocean’s, but Pinelands could very well have a better chance to win at Jackson Memorial in a potential quarterfinal than Ocean will have to win at Freehold Township. It’s not an easy road to the semifinals, but it’s one that would not include games against either of the top two seeds.
3. Jackson Memorial
By winning Class A South and going 3-0 outside the division, Jackson Memorial earned itself a bye and a manageable road to the SCT semifinals. While Jackson Memorial will play two winnable home games before a potential showdown with Holmdel in the semifinals, those games will not be easy. Should Southern beat Raritan in round one, Jackson Memorial will have to face a Rams team that already won at Jackson Memorial and did so without leading scorer Ethan Leming. Southern also took Jackson Memorial to overtime before losing to the Jaguars at home. Pinelands or Long Branch would also be a serious threat to Jackson’s pursuit of its first SCT semifinal appearance since 2012.
4. Freehold Township
Of all the teams outside the top two, Freehold Township has to be considered the team with the best chance to win the tournament simply because the Patriots have already defeated one of the top two seeds. Freehold Township beat CBA, 3-1, on the road with three unanswered goals in the second half, which earned the Patriots the coveted No. 4 spot in the bracket. As long as they remain alive, the Patriots will be on their home field for the first three rounds of the tournament, where they are 7-1 this season. The only loss was to CBA, 2-1, on a 78th-minute goal.
1. Christian Brothers Academy
CBA earned the No. 1 seed by playing a loaded non-conference schedule and going 3-1 in those games while remaining competitive in the loss to a St. Benedict’s team ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Colts also, however, showed some vulnerability against Freehold Township – not only in a 3-1 loss at home but also in a win in Freehold in which the game was tied heading into the final three minutes. On top of the fact that CBA has let a few of their opponents hang around this year, they are two other factors working against the Colts: they are relatively young and their road to the final is pretty grueling. It is possible CBA will have to face a talented Freehold Boro side for a third time, followed by a battle-tested Toms River South program just to make it to the semifinals, where Freehold Township could be waiting.
If this is not the year for Holmdel to win the SCT, it’s hard to imagine a year that it will ever happen. The Hornets are loaded from the top of the roster to the bottom, they got a loss out of their system against a quality opponent in Pingry, and now they have a favorable draw as the No. 2 seed in the SCT. Holmdel will play either a scuffling Middletown North or a Shore team it has already dominated twice in its first game, followed by one of Howell, Brick Memorial, Wall or Barnegat. Brick Memorial and Barnegat have almost no chance to keep Holmdel off the board, while Howell and Wall have not shown they can score enough to stay with Holmdel. Howell could potentially knock off the Hornets with a big game in goal from Shane McBride, but the chances of Holmdel losing before the final seem smaller than the chances of CBA losing – even if both scenarios are unlikely. Holmdel is also likely to get a grass team on the turf in the semifinals, so even if the Hornets can’t finish the job in the final, it at least seems highly likely that they will be on the field at Ocean on Oct. 26.