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TOMS RIVER – Slowly but surely the momentum built and the possession time climbed for Wall, but the scoresheet remained empty. The Crimson Knights were getting their chances but, as has been the case at times this season, they just couldn’t finish.

Nico DellaPietro was frustrated, a bit with the scoreless game but more with his own body. Cramps had forced the junior from the game at the start of overtime but they were not going to keep him glued to the bench.

“I looked him in the eye and said, ‘you good?’,” said Wall head coach Garry Linstra. “And he said ‘yeah, I can do it.”

“I kept going down with cramps and I thought I was going to stay (out) but I said to myself I had to go back in,” DellaPietro said. “I promised my team a goal.”

On a frigid night at Toms River North, DellaPietro delivered Wall its biggest win in 15 years. In the 87th minute, a corner kick off the foot of Tagg Ancrum was punched out by Triton’s goalie and right toward DellaPietro, who let it bounce once before blasting a right-footed strike through a sea of bodies and into the back of the net to give the Crimson Knights a 1-0 victory and send them to the NJSIAA Group 3 championship game.

Wall will now play for a state title for the first time since 2004 and will take on Millburn at 10 a.m. on Sunday at Kean University.

“He hits that inside cut and we tell him to put it on frame and something can happen, and that’s what he did,” Linstra said. “Tagg hit a great corner and the ball came out to him and he just got his knee over the ball and hit a great volley. I loved seeing that ball hit the back of the net.”

“It feels amazing,” DellaPietro said.

DellaPietro’s strike concluded a game that Wall (17-4-1) controlled for the majority of the night. The Crimson Knights’ defense was outstanding again in authoring its fifth clean sheet of the playoffs. Wall has outscored its opponents 10-0 in the postseason and the team and junior goalkeeper Sebastian Campanile have a program single-season record 16 shutouts.=

“I think the world of our defense,” Linstra said. “They’re an exceptional group and they’ve been playing a long time together.”

In addition to stopping Triton’s runs, Wall’s defense did an excellent job supporting Wall’s attack and allowing the Knights to tilt the field toward Triton’s goal for long stretches, especially late in regulation and throughout overtime.

“They’re awesome defensively and mark up and win balls, but one of the key things is when they win the ball they create our offense,” Linstra said.

“They’re the best,” DellaPietro said. “We have the best defense in the Shore. I feel a lot more confident with them back there.”

Wall had the better of the play over the first 40 minutes and held an 8-3 shots advantage. The Knights’ best scoring chance in the first half came in the 38th minute when a left-footed strike from DellaPietro just missed the far post. Wall had another good chance in the 45th minute but Triton goalie Joe Bilgic slid out to break up the play.

Wall continued to apply pressure and DellaPietro had another great chance in the 54th minute when he took a pass down the left side and cut toward the goal but couldn’t find an angle to get a shot on goal and put one just outside the near post. The Crimson Knights had another near-miss at the end of regulation and a glorious chance in the 84th minute off a direct kick, but a volley went over the net and off the football crossbar.

Then came the corner kick, and this time DellaPietro finally found daylight.

“To be a champion you have to finish, that’s what the great teams do,” Linstra said. “Soccer is a tricky thing. You can dominate and lose. It makes you nervous but we rely on our defense and I think we have enough offense. All we needed to do was score one.”

Wall got its one and now needs just one more victory to hoist its first state title in 15 years.

“We’ve been waiting for this group to be seniors,” Linstra said. “They’re an outstanding group that has one many state titles with their club team. They come together and really like each other. From day one we knew we had something special, it was just a matter of fine-tuning it to a point where we could make a run.”

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.