The last two weeks had not treated the Millville High School boys’ soccer team kindly entering Tuesday’s Cape-Atlantic League interconference tilt with local rival Buena.
The Thunderbolts were 0-2-2 dating back to a loss to St. Augustine on Sept. 19 and in danger of dipping below the .500 mark for the first time in the 2013 campaign.
Millville forward Nick Grotti made sure that didn’t happen.
The freshman tallied two second-half goals in a 2-0 win that sent the Chiefs to their first loss of the season and helped the Bolts snap out of their mini-slump, at least for the time being. Millville will look to keep the momentum going Friday when it travels to Hammonton.
“This is what we needed,” Millville midfielder Donald Daigle said of Tuesday’s win. “We usually start off our games a little slow, but we did the total opposite today.”
The Bolts (5-4-2) set the tempo right from the opening tap, controlling the pace against Buena (8-1-1) for the better part of the first half. Daigle, Braeden Beck, Tim Cain and Terron Mitchell all played pivotal roles in the midfield as Millville established a nice offensive flow that did not produce goals immediately but allowed the team to settle into the game.
That’s not to say Buena didn’t have its chances.
The Chiefs weathered the storm early and nearly stole the lead late in the first half when junior forward Zayne Czeronka rifled a shot destined for the upper-left corner of the goal that Millville keeper Sean Matias was able to get a hand on.
Moments later, Czeronka slipped a through ball to Eliseo Ramales, but Matias was aggressive on the play and corralled the shot attempt.
“Those were a couple big shots to get,” Matias said. “We couldn’t afford to be behind after how we started.”
Millville opened the second half with the same intensity as the first.
Grotti nearly put the Bolts up in the 47th minute when he ran under a free kick and flicked a header on goal, but Buena keeper Jake Bleyhl managed a diving save, one of his five for the game. Bleyhl wouldn’t be as fortunate on Grotti’s next attempt.
The forward took a pass at the corner of the 18-yard line with his back to the goal, drove the center of the field and uncorked a right-footed shot into the top-right corner of the net past a leaping Bleyhl in the 53rd minute for a 1-0 lead.
“It started in the middle, went to the outside and then generated back to the middle on a good ball by Terron,” Grotti said. “It just developed really nicely for me.”
Grotti notched his second goal after Matias came up with a massive save on Czeronka from the right of the penalty mark in the 77th minute to preserve the lead. Czeronka found the ball at his feet and managed a quality chance, but the shot was in Matias’ range and he didn’t allow a rebound.
Matias’ ensuing punt found Grotti in space and the forward proceeded to bend a 30-yard shot into the left side panel of the net past Bleyhl for a 2-0 advantage in the 78th minute.
“I thought our defense played well, they kept (Grotti) to two shots and they were both goals,” Bleyhl said with a laugh. “You can’t really do much about them. They were two great shots.”
It was a chance for a previously unbeaten Buena team to see how it measured up to a larger school like Millville.
All in all, the Chiefs were pleased with their effort.
“We played a tough game,” Bleyhl said. “We had our opportunities, but we couldn’t capitalize.”