A lack of practice hardly slowed down the Sacred Heart High School boys’ soccer team on Friday.
The fourth-seeded Lions scored three times in the opening 14 minutes of their Non-Public B South quarterfinal contest against fifth-seeded St. Rose of Belmar and held on for a 4-2 victory before a large crowd at the Joseph E. Romano Sports Complex.
Unruly weather kept Sacred Heart (14-5) from practicing outdoors for three days leading into its playoff tilt with the Purple Roses (11-9-1). On Thursday, the Lions took to the school gym for one final tune-up.
There were hardly any signs of rust — at least offensively.
Sacred Heart midfielder Drew Mesiano played a perfect give-and-go with Bryce Aulffo before firing a cross to freshman Tyler Lunsford, who headed the ball past St. Rose goalkeeper Alex Patrick for a 1-0 lead in the second minute.
Mesiano got in on the scoring act in the eighth minute, tapping home a rebound from an Aulffo shot for a 2-0 advantage. Moments later, Sacred Heart’s leading scorer Steven Tobolski worked a cross to forward Nick Calabrese for another header goal and 3-0 edge in the 14th minute.
The rout looked to be on.
“The third goal was the most important one,” said Mesiano, the Lions’ captain. “They still played hard, still possessed the ball better than we expected them to and it was really killing our momentum. So I think that third one that Nick Calabrese put away was very important coming out of the first half.”
As it turned out, Sacred Heart would need the cushion.
The Purple Roses kept their foot on the pedal and forced a defensive miscue that ended with Travis Petillo playing a ball over the Lions’ back line that J.P. O’Malley was able to slide past Sacred Heart goalie Dom Patitucci in the 21st minute.
The two sides traded chances into the second half until Tobolski gathered a well-played ball from Mesiano and beat Patrick far post for his 23rd goal of the year and a 4-1 Sacred Heart lead in the 57th minute.
“It pretty much secured the game,” Tobolski said of his tally. “Really good teams can come back and score three goals on you, but we weren’t going to let them do that (Friday). We came out strong in this game and that’s what we wanted to do.”
The Purple Roses made things interesting in the 70th minute, playing a quick restart on a free kick that caught the Lions’ defense flat-footed. Petillo dribbled in uncontested on Patitucci and finished the chance to get St. Rose within two goals with 10 minutes to play.
The mental breakdowns are something Sacred Heart will need to work on if it hopes to advance to the sectional final.
“We need to work on clearing the ball, that’s it,” first-year Lions coach Joe Sterchele said. “Other than that, top to bottom, that was the only thing negative that I saw.”
Sacred Heart will have to wait until Monday to learn its opponent for the semifinal round.
Eighth-seeded Rutgers Prep is hosting ninth-seeded Roselle Catholic today at 2 p.m. The winner of that game will travel to top-seeded Trenton Catholic on Monday to determine who gets the Lions.
The semifinal round has not been kind to Sacred Heart in recent years. The Lions have exited the playoffs there each of the last two season, including at the hands of Trenton Catholic in 2011.
Sacred Heart is not expecting it to be easy this year either.
“Any of the top teams that we’re going to play in the next round are going to be physical and fast, and we have to play a full 80 minutes,” Mesiano said. “There were some letdowns that can be handled. We just have to get rid of the nerves, settle down and focus on every single play.”
If the Lions can do that, the team will find itself in the South Jersey title game for the first time since 2009.