Mainland, Ocean City Boys Soccer Advance in State Tourney
LINWOOD — Before he graduated this past spring, Jack Sarkos set the all-time scoring record at Mainland Regional High School. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the center of the field, could beat one, two, even three defenders with ease before making an opposing goalkeeper look foolish. The current Lehigh University freshman finished his high school career with 75 goals, was two-time Glory Days Player of the Year, two-time Cape-Atlantic League Player of the Year, three-time all-state and played in the High School All-America Game as a senior.
Needless to say, the Mustangs are quite a different team this year, but that doesn’t mean they are devoid of talent — they just have to use it in different ways and get more people involved.
Seemingly everyone on the roster was involved Friday, as third-seeded Mainland had five different goal scorers and got a tremendous game from its midfield and defense to easily dispatch No. 11 Seneca in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. The win means Mainland travels to No. 2 Triton on Tuesday, while on the other of the bracket, ninth-seeded Ocean City scored a stunning upset over No. 1 Moorestown in a penalty kick shootout and will square off with No. 5 Toms River South, a perennial power in this section.
Mainland (14-5) scored three goals in the first half despite going against a strong wind coming out of the west, and the Mustangs used their superior possession game to continue to pressure the Golden Eagles’ defense throughout the game. Junior Austin Padula got things going in the seventh minute when he knocked in a rebound off a corner kick and about eight minutes later Seneca (9-8-4) made a huge mistake as a defender tried to clear a ball off the back line by sending it across the Golden Eagles’ goal face. Mainland senior Ryan Pellegrino was there for the easy knock-in goal and a 2-0 lead. The Stangs pushed the lead to 3-0 when goalie Zach Matik boomed a punt up to center midfielder Nick Bozzi, who did the rest, beating a defender and scoring.
“We were looking at Seneca as a strong opponent coming in, I think their seed was a little bit deceiving because they have a strong team and play a tough schedule. But we did a really good job of controlling the game and neutralizing their best players. We got on it and played the kind of game we wanted to play, and that’s important,” said Mainland coach Alex Weidman, who is in his first year coaching the boys program after leading the girls team last year. “We have to play that way. It’s good as a coach to see those things — that’s what I pride myself in, to see everyone getting involved, everybody getting scoring chances and everyone putting them away when they get them. That’s something special for me to see, especially this time of year.”
“We really worked on that in practice, just our form and trying to give angles to our forwards and outside center backs. We just wanted to keep the ball, keep it simple and play it in to our center back, and Bozzi played a heck of a game. Getting that early lead was everything because we knew in the second half we’d have the wind at our back so it would be easier to push forward,” said senior defender Tommy Gordon, who was instrumental in pushing Mainland’s attack from the back in the first half. “We put a lot of pressure on them. We didn’t really care about the wind.”
“We’ve been working on it all practice and coach said we can’t let up. Like other guys have said, every game could be our last and we don’t want to give that up. Senior year, we’re trying to keep going on,” added fellow senior Isael Serra. “We came out and wanted to go for it, right away we were pressuring them. We don’t have a lot of size this year so we’ve been relying on possession and moving the ball around. We’ve kind of adopted a new style. We were struggling with it in the beginning of the season, but every day the guys come in and work as hard as we can in practice. We just have to keep up that hard work.”
Mainland cemented the victory by scoring twice in the final 11 minutes of the game, as Devon Ford got into the scoring mix off a feed from Bozzi, and Gordon was rewarded for all his hard work on a pretty give-and-go goal when he teamed up with sophomore Cooper McKinney.
“The little details are what gets you through in these rounds and we have to continue to work on things. From the scoreboard perspective it may have looked perfect but we have to continue to work and grind it out, work hard for each other,” Weidman said. “I’ve been to the semifinals before as a coach and I’m aware that it’s tough to get past, but we’ll continue to prepare. The boys are hungry and this was a big goal for us this season. We’ve focused on this the past couple of weeks, just grinding it out and getting things done. Triton will be a good opponent so we’ll continue to prepare hard and iron out all those little details.”
Added Gordon, “We’re just going to play our hardest because every game could be our last. We’re just trying to play together and play as a team, that’s really been our emphasis.
No. 1 GOES DOWN: Ocean City came into the sectional tournament as the No. 9 seed after an inconsistent regular season, but coach Aaron Bogushefsky seems to always have a game plan for the state playoffs. The Red Raiders battled top-seeded Moorestown — winner of the recent South Jersey Coaches Association Tournament — to a 1-1 tie through regulation and overtime before winning 4-2 in the PK shootout. The Red Raiders are just now above .500 at 8-7-1 and they’ll take on a Toms River South team that scored a 1-0 win over Cherry Hill West.
BIG REMATCH: Egg Harbor Township will get another shot at Washington Township, the team that eliminated the Eagles from the Coaches Cup tournament, on Tuesday in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals. No. 2 EHT (17-5), which needed overtime to get past No. 15 Lenape in the opening round, needed extra time again Friday to rally and beat seventh-seeded Shawnee. The Eagles had trailed the Renegades 2-1 at halftime before a second-half tally forced overtime. On the other side of the bracket, No. 16 Toms River North continued to amaze by beating No. 8 Cherry Hill East, 2-0, just a few days after knocking off top-seeded Clearview in the opening round. The Mariners will meet Shore Conference rival Jackson Memorial in the semifinals.
PREP INTO SEMIS: Top-seeded St. Augustine Prep, which received a first-round bye, had no trouble breezing its way into the semifinals in Non-Public A South with a 4-0 win over No. 8 Camden Catholic. The Hermits will host Paul VI on Tuesday, with the winner playing either CBA or Notre Dame in the championship.