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NJSIAA Group Semifinals

Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019

Group IV Semifinal

At Washington Township

Toms River North (12-7-1) vs. Hunterdon Central (17-4), 6 p.m.

For a No. 16 seed to win a sectional title, there needs to be a something close to a perfect storm of circumstances, which is a fair classification of the South Jersey Group IV bracket this season. Washington Township entered the postseason a five-time defending champion but with 10 new starters, the Minutemen were not the same imposing side they were in recent years past.

That left the race for the South Jersey Group IV title a wide-open one and Toms River North took full advantage. The Mariners won their first sectional title since winning Central Group IV in 2009 as the No. 1 seed and also became the first No. 16 seed since 2012 to capture a sectional title. They also did it without requiring a round of penalty kicks, defeating No. 1 Clearview and No. 8 Cherry Hill East 2-0 each and No. 4 Jackson Memorial and No. 2 Egg Harbor 2-1 each.

Junior Parker Nickelsen has been the breakout star of Toms River North’s run, racking up three goals and an assist in his team’s four wins. He scored a goal in each of the first two wins, assisted classmate Ali Baish’s 79th-minute game winning at Jackson Memorial and scored the golden goal in Friday’s overtime win at Egg Harbor to complete the championship run. Senior Jake Baurerband also scored in each of Toms River North’s first two wins while senior Logan Mack has a goal in each of the last two wins.

Toms River North senior Logan Mack (15). (Photo by Matt Manley)
Toms River North senior Logan Mack (15) and sophomore Mattia Assante (left). (Photo by Matt Manley)

The Mariners are hoping the run carries into the weekend and in order for that to happen, they will have to beat a red-hot Hunterdon Central team that has looked more imposing lately than any of the teams in South Jersey section have at any point this year. The Red Devils are skilled, physical, athletic and balanced, which Long Branch found out first hand in a 2-0 loss at Hunterdon Central in the Central Group IV final. Long Branch reached the championship as a No. 13 seed by beating the Nos. 1, 5 and 5 seeds in the bracket, so the Green Wave had a similar run to Toms River North before running into the No. 2 seed in the section.

For Toms River North to pull off yet another upset, it will have to continue to lean on its defensive-minded seniors Mack and Evan Weismar, as well as sophomore center back Ryan Maguire and sophomore goalkeeper Dawson Kaniuk, to challenge Hunterdon Central’s forwards and disrupt its final-third offense. After that, it will be a matter of making the most of limited opportunities, which Nickelsen, Baurerband, Baish and Mack have mastered in to this point.

If there is one x-factor that should work in Toms River North’s favor, it is the venue. Hunterdon Central has been a dominant home team and after winning four straight home games to win a fourth sectional title in 10 years, the Red Devils will have to travel 70 miles Thursday night for a chance to play in the Group IV final. Toms River North will have to make a similar trip but the Mariners have been trekking all over South Jersey for two weeks now and have rather enjoyed themselves to this point.

It is hard to see any team derailing Hunterdon Central at the present time, but if any team should be given a shot, it is this Cinderella Toms River North team. The Mariners have relished the chance to make believers out of the doubters and they will have one more chance to do it. The Pick: Hunterdon Central, 3-0.


Group III Semifinal

At Toms River North

Wall (16-4-1) vs. Triton (18-5), 6 p.m.

The southern end of the Group III semifinals pits teams that share a definable characteristic based on their state-tournament performances: they are not giving up goals. Triton enters Thursday having outscored its first four state tournament opponents by a combined score of 8-0, while Wall rolled through the Central Group III section by a cumulative count of 9-0. Triton handled Ocean City in the sectional final, 3-0, while Wall shook off a challenging first half to dominate the second half and beat Ocean, 1-0.

Wall has been a defense-first program under 18-year coach Garry Linstra, who led the Crimson Knights to their last overall Group III championship in 2004. The Crimson Knights entered the tournament with 13 goals allowed and have kept it that way, conceding just 0.62 goals per game on the season. Their last shutout was the 15th of the year, which is a single-season record for the Knights and junior goalkeeper Sebastian Campanile, as well as the highest total at the Shore this season.

Wall senior Tag Ancrum. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Wall senior Tag Ancrum. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Goal-scoring has not been quite as reliable for Wall, but the Crimson Knights are generating chances – even in scoring just three goals in the last three games. Wall put up 18 shots in the 1-0 win over Ocean and should have had a second goal when a shot by junior Philip Lyons cleared the goal-line but was ruled not to be a goal. Senior Thomas Perry’s goal in the 45th minute was enough to get the job done but the insurance could go a long way on Thursday night against the Mustangs.

Speaking Triton, the Mustangs are coming off their first sectional championship victory in school history and will now try to advance to the state final for the first time ever as well. They opened and closed the run with 3-0 wins, with a pair of 1-0 victories over No. 10 Cumberland and No. 3 Mainland to reach the final as the No. 2 seed in the section.

Sophomores Max Hawk (four goals in the state tournament) and Ryan Gale lead a Triton side that, unlike Wall, has very little senior influence. The Mustangs are not only close to their first state-final trip, but they are also set up to make multiple trips to the last Sunday of the season with the sophomore talent they boast. To this point, Triton has taken down a Mainland team that is not what it was two years ago when it reached the state final and an Ocean City team that caught fire in the tournament. Now, the Mustangs will clash with a senior-led Wall team that has been as good as any Wall side in the last 15 years. We’ll see if the young Mustangs are up to the challenge. The Pick: Wall, 1-0


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