Pinelands Regional Boys Soccer Team Falls in Conference Tourney Quarterfinals

Oct 25, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands Regional’s Dom Dos Santos (10) goes up for a head ball near the goal during the Wildcats’ 4-0 loss to Jackson Memorial in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Oct. 20.

When the Pinelands Regional boys soccer team stepped off the bus outside Jackson Memorial High School and walked onto the pitch for its warmups, the expectation was to swipe a victory out from under the third-seeded Jaguars on Oct. 20.

“These guys, and myself included, thought they could win today,” said coach Nino Scotto di Carlo, whose sixth-seeded Wildcats reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the first time in program history but were knocked off by Jackson, 4-0. “Jackson played great and I can’t take anything away from them, but if we played them again I think we’d win. And that’s the expectation these guys have of themselves.”

Early on, it definitely appeared the Wildcats (15-3-1) had enough talent and grit to hang with the bigger, physical Jaguars. And during the first eight minutes of the contest, the game was a back-and-forth affair during which Pinelands managed a couple of scoring chances.

Unfortunately, the tone of the game changed 9:19 into the first half, when Jackson midfielder Drew Greenblatt struck a ball from about 35 yards and it deflected off the shoulder of a Pinelands defender. As goalkeeper Logan Johnson started right to either make a save or see the ball sail wide of the goal, it changed direction and headed toward the left side of the goal. Caught off balance, Johnson attempted to punch it away, but the ball had a funny spin and it hopped away from his outstretched hands into the back corner.

Despite the own goal, the Wildcats continued to play well in the midfield and move the ball ahead with consistency. However, when the ball was in the air, Jackson’s defenders easily won them and kept Pinelands’ forwards and midfielders from getting clean shots on goal. Still, the Wildcats managed a few more opportunities – their best coming with about nine minutes left in the half.

Following a foul just outside the penalty area, junior Kieran Sundermann lined up a direct kick from about 20 yards away, just off center. Sundermann cleared the five-man Jackson wall and bent the ball toward the upper-right corner, but Jaguar keeper Nick Kinzler used a two-handed punch to steer it away to keep it a one-goal contest.

Just over five minutes later, the Jaguars struck again – a corner kick delivered just beyond the far post was headed into the back of the net by Ben Schnaak, who had easily skied over a Pinelands defender trying to ward him off.

“That first was unlucky,” Scotto di Carlo said. “They controlled 50-50 balls, even though I thought we controlled the possession in the first half. Jackson had some height, and they have some really good players. Jackson was ready for us, but we had some chances in the first half. We could have tied it on the free kick, but the keeper made a big save. If we equalize, you never know what happens from there.”

Coming out of the intermission, the Jaguars continued to press the Pinelands defense, controlling the midfield for the better part of the first eight minutes. And then they put the game well out of reach, scoring with just over 32 minutes left, when a ball served into the right side of the box was headed down by Greenblatt, right to the center of the box, where Joe Schlagater drilled a left-footed shot from 12 yards away.

At that point, Jackson Memorial packed the center of the field and barely allowed Pinelands to get forward through the midfield. The Wildcats managed just a couple more chances near the goal, but only one that forced Kinzler to make a decent save.

With time ticking down under four minutes, Dan Russo capped the scoring when he corralled a ball near midfield, dribbled down the right side before cutting to the inside past a defender, carrying into the penalty area and ripping a shot past Johnson from 15 yards.

“Jackson did a very good job on the counterattack today,” Scotto di Carlo said. “I still think we played well and executed the way we wanted to, but we just couldn’t score. With a 2-0 or 3-0 lead, it’s hard to get anything against a good team at that point.”

Despite the loss, it still was a big deal for Pinelands to even be playing amid the top-eight teams in the tourney. That’s certainly not the way the players wanted to see things after a 4-0 loss, but the facts are the facts.

“It’s true. It absolutely is a big deal,” the coach said. “We’ve made history this year by winning the B South championship and getting to the Shore Conference quarterfinals. It’s impressive, and we have to remember that.”

On Oct. 25, the NJSIAA tournament was scheduled to be seeded, and Pinelands expects to be near the top of the seeding for the South Jersey Group III sectional. The final power-point ratings at the eligibility cutoff had the Wildcats third in the section behind Ocean City and Mainland, with tourney play slated to begin Tuesday, Oct. 31.

“I’m confident in them, and our players are confident in themselves,” Scotto di Carlo said. “The experience of playing this deep into the Shore Conference Tournament should benefit us. This will be great for us. We’re young, with just two seniors, so this is all great experience for them.”

— David Biggy

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