Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals

At Shore Regional High School

Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019

No. 6 CBA (10-3-2) vs. No. 15 Manasquan (7-5-2), 5 p.m.

The first of the two semifinal games pits the top two teams in the Shore Sports Network preseason rankings, but neither of their roads to the final was a direct route. Manasquan quickly fell off the top-10 radar with early overtime losses to Ocean, Rumson-Fair Haven and Jackson Memorial and was even in danger of missing the SCT altogether. After scrambling to get in, the Warriors have returned to the form that got them to the South Jersey Group II championship game last year.

Manasquan junior Tommy Johnson. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Since the start of the SCT, Manasquan has allowed one goal in four games and that goal came in the final seconds of regulation in a thrilling penalty-kicks win at Southern on Tuesday. According to coach Tom McGill, the defensive transformation has been the result of moving seniors Rich Maloney and Tyler Guagenty back to the defense, with Maloney moving from forward to center back, Guagenty going from center midfield to right outside back and senior Chris Pierro sliding out to left back from center back. The reconfiguration has made a tangible difference, with Manasquan allowing 16 goals in its first 10 games and just three in the last five since the change.

CBA’s transformation was not as dramatic, but with seven new starters to open the season, the Colts came into the season knowing they had some learning to do. A season-opening win over Washington Township was a good sign that the pieces were in place for a big season, but they Colts hit a mini-skid in the middle of September that included losses to Long Branch and Marlboro, as well as a home draw vs. Middletown South.

The CBA season took off when the Colts took nationally-ranked St. Benedict’s to the 77th minute with a 1-0 lead before the Gray Bees scored twice in 30 seconds to escape Lincroft with a win. From there, CBA beat a strong Seton Hall Prep side at a neutral site and then handed Freehold Township its only loss in its last nine games. Even with its loaded schedule, CBA has allowed just nine goals this season – six of which came in the loss to St. Benedict’s (2-1), the win over Freehold Township (4-2) and a penalty-kicks win over Jackson Memorial (2-2). The defensive success makes sense considering the Colts returned two defensive starters in senior Connor Anderko and junior Jack Longo, as well as senior captain Noah Santiforte. Sophomore outside back Declan Kelly as also emerged as a one of CBA’s top young players and had and assist in the quarterfinals vs. Jackson Memorial.

CBA junior Jack Longo. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Both teams entered this season with championship aspirations and are now one win away from playing for said championship. For CBA, it would offer a chance at redemption for its returning players – Anderko, Longo, senior Michael Casper and senior Luke Pascarella – who suffered a heart-breaking SCT championship overtime defeat against Ocean last year before going on to win the NJSIAA Non-Public A title.

In Manasquan’s place, eight starters are back from last year, when the Warriors lost to CBA in the SCT quarterfinals and Delran in the South Jersey II championship. The Warriors know exactly what they are going up against on Saturday evening and it will not be on CBA’s spacious home field. The venue should play into Manasquan’s hands in that the Warriors can more easily defend the outsides and set pieces will be especially important. Lately, CBA has been playing the best soccer of any team in the SCT while Manasquan has been the hot team finding ways to win behind its two big goal-scorers – Tommy Johnson and Drew Greenblatt. It’s a distinct possibility that Manasquan finds a way again but it’s hard to go against a team playing the way CBA has. The Pick: CBA, 1-0

No. 4 Freehold Township (12-5) vs. No. 8 Colts Neck (9-3-1), 7 p.m.

Like the two teams in the first semifinal, Freehold Township and Colts Neck have taken unlikely routes to the semifinal round. Freehold Township opened the season as the No. 3 team at the Shore, lost its first two games and its most talented player, then fell to 4-4 with a surprising loss at Rumson. It was then that the Patriots found themselves and that has manifested itself in an 8-1 record over its last nine games, with the lone loss coming on the road to CBA.

Freehold Township junior Zach Orrico. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

On the other side, Colts Neck graduated 18 seniors from its 2018 Central Jersey Group III runner-up team and has come back with another deep tournament run despite housing so much varsity inexperience on the roster. The Cougars had a step on Wall for the Class B North championship thanks to a 6-1 start but a loss to Freehold Boro, a tie against Red Bank and a home loss to Wall in succession sunk Colts Neck’s division title hopes.

Since then, the Cougars have rebounded with three straight SCT shutouts over Manchester (2-0), Long Branch (1-0 in overtime) and Toms River South (1-0). Although Colts Neck avoided top-seeded Holmdel after the Hornets lost to Toms River South on penalties, the Cougars played them tough in a 2-1, overtime loss during the regular season.

By the numbers, Colts Neck boasts one of the top defense-keeper combinations in the conference, with seven goals allowed and nine shutouts to its credit in 13 games. Senior goalkeeper Dylan Jacobs and junior center back Stephen Ciccarone are the two returning starters who lead that group and have posted clean sheets in each of Colts Neck’s wins. That makes Colts Neck’s winning formula pretty straight-forward: keep the Patriots off the board.

Colts Neck junior Derek Haaf. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Freehold Township, meanwhile, has been a reliable scoring outfit and the Patriots are adept at striking early. Junior Zach Orrico (13) and senior Bennett Messinger (12) have combined for 25 goals, which only three fewer than Colts Neck’s team total. Freehold Township’s weakness, meanwhile, has been protecting leads but the Patriots have also proven they can manage in close games as well and still recover after giving up equalizers.

Colts Neck is capable of winning and doing so while giving up a goal, but Freehold Township is rolling and is the more dynamic team in the second semifinal. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 3-2

Quarterfinal Picks Record: 2-2

2019 SCT Picks Record: 17-8