Pinelands Regional Boys Soccer Squad Upended by Seneca in State Sectional Final

Nov 14, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands senior Aniello Lubrano collides with the opposing goalkeeper as he tries to get a shot on goal during the Wildcats’ 1-0 loss to Seneca in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III championship on Nov. 8.

Two years ago, as the Pinelands Regional boys soccer program was starting to take a drastic turn upward, the crew of sophomores on the team were a big part of what was brewing. Coach Nino Scotto de Carlo – the assistant at the time – knew the program had a special group of young men in its midst.

“It’s definitely a team for the ages in terms of the Pinelands soccer program,” Scotto De Carlo said following the Wildcats’ 1-0 loss to Seneca in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III championship on Nov. 8. “I doubt any of them are thinking about it right now, but I’m sure in a week or two they’ll be able to look back at this season and be proud. We won back-to-back division championships, and it’s been almost 30 years since we’ve been in the position to win a sectional championship. They are a special bunch.”

Heading into the final against the fourth-seeded Golden Eagles, the sixth-seeded Wildcats had every reason to believe they could win the program’s first sectional title since 1989, and immediately showed they were going to be in the battle until the final whistle. Just over a minute into the clash, Pinelands earned a corner kick, but Seneca’s defense cleared the ball without giving up anything dangerous. The first half was a back-and-forth contest for most of the way, but the Wildcats (11-5-1) had a few more opportunities at the goal.

With about 13½ minutes left, senior Dominick Dos Santos worked the ball down the right flank, despite the effort of a pair of Seneca defenders, before firing a right-footed power shot from 15 yards away. Goalkeeper Jonah Mikulski needed both hands to steer the ball aside for a corner, which was cleared away by the defense.

Pinelands continued to pressure the Golden Eagles’ defense, but Seneca (19-1-3) effectively clogged the middle of the penalty area and didn’t give the Wildcats’ front-line players – namely seniors Kieran Sundermann and Aniello Lubrano and sophomore Johnny Hart – much space to maneuver.

With just under six minutes left in the half, Seneca broke the deadlock when John Meale worked the ball down the right side, just off to the right of the penalty area, before delivering a perfect pass to the top of the keeper’s box. Eric Pierre managed to get in behind a defender to poke the ball past Pinelands keeper Gavin Harris and into the middle of the goal.

“We were playing a little too direct in how we attacked, and that’s not how we play,” Scotto de Carlo said. “But in the second half, we had a much higher possession rate and had chances. We just had to focus. But at no time did they think it was an insurmountable thing to come back. They knew they were capable.”

During the 35th minute, Sundermann worked his way past a defender and sent a shot wide to the right of the goal. A few minutes later, Dos Santos managed to get to a ball inside the penalty area and sent a shot toward the upper-right corner, but it bounced off the outside of the right post for a goal kick.

Routinely throughout the final 25 minutes, the Wildcats put pressure on the Seneca defense, trying to break through for the equalizer. Eventually, Pinelands’ offense appeared to simply run out of gas, and Dos Santos had three defenders around him at all times. With 2:20 to go, Hart worked the ball in from midfield and sent a screamer from 16 yards over the crossbar, but that was Pinelands’ last gasp.

The Wildcats managed eight shots on goal, while Harris made five saves to help keep his team in the contest.

“We haven’t lost since Oct. 13 against Colts Neck, so this was a rough one today,” Scotto de Carlo said. “But this whole state tournament run has pretty much been predicated on their ability to dig deep and work hard.

“I had a lot of confidence that we’d be able to put one away. We had chances in the second half. We had a better effort in the second half compared to the first. They knew what was at stake, and they worked extremely hard to get back in the game. We just couldn’t put away our opportunities, but creating them is half the battle, and I’m proud of them and their work ethic.”

After the game, the players took time to thank all their fans along the fence near the visiting team bleachers – one final, and slow, walk for that special group of seniors whose careers had just ended, which included defenders Frank Aguilar and Luke Mathis, who played great in their final contest..

“It’s going to be hard to replace a lot of these guys,” Scotto de Carlo said.

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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