Wildcats Boys Soccer Team Using Solid Defense to Win Games
The Pinelands Regional boys soccer team has been shutting down opposing offenses quite regularly so far this season, and on Sept. 22 the Wildcats did so again in a Shore Conference Class B South division tilt with Barnegat, knocking off the Bengals, 6-0.
“Our defense is playing incredible right now,” said midfielder Matt O’Connell, who scored a natural hat trick and added an assist during the lopsided victory. “If you can keep a clean sheet, it makes winning games easier.”
Since opening with a 4-3 win over Lakewood and a 2-0 loss to nearby foe Southern (5-3), which plays in the A South division, the Wildcats haven’t allowed more than a goal in seven contests, including three straight shutouts, culminating with their win at Barnegat.
“We stay really organized, tight and compact on defense,” said junior defender Cade Sundermann, the squad’s defensive captain. “We want our goalkeeper (Brian Kelleher) to trust us, and the rest of the guys listen to me and I can trust them to do what’s right and make good decisions.”
Unfortunately, after six straight divisional victories, the Wildcats, who are 7-2 overall, sustained their first B South loss of the season when Lacey, which had spent a bunch of years in A South before conference heads relocated the Lions back to B South for this season, defeated Pinelands, 1-0, on Sept. 26.
Prior to the loss against Lacey, Pinelands bounced Ranney, 3-1, two days earlier. But against the Bengals, the onslaught started fairly early and was steady throughout the contest.
The Wildcats fired several shots on goal during the first 15 minutes before Deni Salgado ran onto a ball played down the right flank by O’Connell and sent a shot from about 20 yards over the leaping goalkeeper’s outstretched arms and into the far side of the goal with 13:50 to go in the first half.
Some five minutes later, Anthony Diaz played a ball in the air from near midfield to O’Connell, who trapped the ball down near the top of the penalty area, made a quick maneuver to his left, blew past the defender marking him and blasted a shot into the right corner from 10 yards for a 2-0 lead.
Just 5:35 into the second half, a Barnegat foul in the penalty area resulted in O’Connell calmly burying a penalty kick into the lower left corner to make it 3-0. From there, Pinelands simply piled on goals.
Approaching midway through the second half, O’Connell ran onto a ball on the left side of the penalty area, fought off a defender at his back, turned and fired a shot on goal from eight yards, which initially was saved. The rebound ended up right back at O’Connell’s feet and the second time he buried it for the hat trick.
“I rely a lot on my teammates,” O’Connell said. “They make a lot of good passes to get me the ball, and then it’s my job to put it in the net. But without them, I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to finish on those chances.”
Two minutes after O’Connell’s third goal, Salgado played a nice ball through the defense, Jordan Humphreys got behind the defense and ran onto it, then drilled the ball into the right corner from 15 yards for the Wildcats’ fifth goal.
Six minutes later, Pinelands capped the scoring when Luke Mathis flicked a ball behind the defense, where Adam Raynor ran onto it and with a slide beat the keeper near the right edge of the keeper’s box, slipping the ball into the back of the net.
Against Ranney, Dominick DeSantos, O’Connell and Salgado each scored a goal, while Sundermann and O’Connell added assists. On Monday, Lacey’s Kevin Miller scored the only goal of the contest as the Lions improved to 5-3 overall and 5-2 in the division, which Pinelands still leads.
Now halfway through their divisional schedule, the Wildcats will be pressed to keep up the stellar defensive efforts while opposing teams look to shut down O’Connell and the rest of the Pinelands attack.
“We’ve been working really hard, and back in August we were kind of waiting for this season because we knew we could be a contender for the division title,” Sundermann said. “We knew our time was coming, but we’re always leery of every team we play. We believe we can play with anybody, but we still have to play our best to win games.”
— David Biggy