Buena Regional High School’s Big 3 struck again.
Chiefs’ seniors AJ Gazzara, Miguel Hernandez and Josue Guadarrama combined for three goals and three assists Thursday in a convincing 4-1 win over Cape-Atlantic League National Conference rival Sacred Heart.
Gazzara opened the scoring just three minutes into the contest, while Guadarrama and Hernandez were part of a three-goal barrage by Buena over a 10-minute span late in the second half.
The victory helped keep the Chiefs (9-2) atop the National Conference race, while Sacred Heart (4-4) lost for just the second time in its last six games.
“Sacred Heart is still one of our biggest rivalries, so it was important for us to win this game,” said Gazzara, whose marker was his 12th of the season.
The forward’s goal came not long after the opening whistle, as Gazzara worked himself into space from about 25 yards out and hit a right-footed shot over Lions’ goalkeeper Dom Patitucci, who was caught a shade too far off his line.
“I just shot it because I thought I could make it from there,” Gazzara said of his opportunity. “I was just going to keep taking shots.”
Buena seemed reluctant to pull the trigger throughout the game, much to the dismay of Buena coach Tom Ruhl.
Sacred Heart freshman Tyler Lunsford knotted the game at 1-1 in the 48th minute, cleaning up a loose ball in the box that originated off a corner kick and rebound from a Bryce Aulffo shot. The Lions seemed to feed off the momentum and carried play for about 20 minutes to open the second half.
“It was big for us,” said Lunsford, who owns nine goals on the season. “Bryce worked hard to create that chance and I was able to clean it up and score the goal.”
Buena finally gave in to Ruhl’s pleas, however, as Guadarrama bent a perfect left-footed, 20-yard shot inside the far post to put his team back up 2-1.
The Chiefs wouldn’t look back from there.
“The ball deflected to me from the defense and I just saw the shot there, so I took it,” said Guadarrama, who also had two assists. “They had the momentum there for the first half of the second half. It was just about us not wanting to lose to a rival.”
Guadarrama’s goal opened the flood gates in Sacred Heart’s defensive end.
Gazzara found Hernandez on a perfectly executed set play off a free kick in the 69th minute. Gazzara, who had fired three shots at goal on previous attempts, faked on the next go around and led Hernandez with a perfect pass into the penalty area. Hernandez took one touch before firing a shot by Patitucci for a 3-1 lead.
“We’ve been working on that at practice, we had that planned,” Gazzara said of the set play. “I kept shooting, so I thought they would think I was going to shoot again, and I just played it short. There was a wide open gap.”
Senior Anthony Merighi added an insurance marker in the 72nd minute, taking a feed wide from Guadarrama and finishing the chance.
The score didn’t fully represent Sacred Heart’s level of play.
The Lions certainly had their chances to take control of the game in the second half prior to the late letdown.
“We kind of let up there at the end,” Sacred Heart senior captain Drew Mesiano said. “We didn’t play a full 80 minutes and that’s what you need to put away a game against a good team like this.”