BUENA VISTA – The Delran High School boys’ soccer team had to scratch and claw its way to a South Jersey Group 2 championship on Friday.
Four days later, the squad ran into deficit it couldn’t come back from. The Bears saw their season end with a 2-0 setback to Holmdel in Tuesday’s state semifinal round at St. Augustine Prep.
“It’s tough (to end like this), but the team fought hard,” senior captain Michael Strohlein said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. We worked hard this season. Holmdel played better than us and we worked our hearts off, but it happens.”
Hornets forward Justin McStay was the culprit on both scores. The sophomore first got on the board in the 14th minute on a pass from Leo Nobrega. McStay settled the ball and put it past Delran keeper Phillipe Alves.
The second marker could have been scored by a number of Hornets as another ball in the box was surrounded by four Holmdel players. However, McStay came flying in to bury the ball and seal the game in the 59th minute.
Delran coach Mike Otto thought that the previous playoff games, two of which were decided by penalty kicks, had an adverse effect on his team going into the state semifinal.
“I think Holmdel really took it to us today,” Otto said. “I thought they were flying around the field. (They were) a real fast team and I thought we had a real tough run getting up to this point. I think a lot of those games took a lot of gas out of us, especially that last one against Cinnaminson.”
Though fatigue may have played a part, the loss certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort. The Bears’ offense put together multiple opportunities with some of their best chances coming on corners after falling down a goal.
In the first half, Skyler Diggs couldn’t handle a ball in the box that was eventually corralled by Hornets keeper Tyler Marchiano. On their final corner of the first half, a ball was seemingly cleared by Holmdel (13-6-5), but junior Rudy Engel sent in a screaming shot that just missed the upper-right corner of the goal.
“We had been in that position before,” Otto said. “I don’t think we were too concerned at that point. It was earlier in the game, but we just couldn’t seem to get anything going today.
“We had a few opportunities that could have changed the game and we didn’t execute. We had a hard time getting in the ball and Holmdel did a good job of bunkering in there, getting guys behind the ball and keeping us away from the goal.”
In the second half, Strohlein had two excellent chances to score, but was thwarted by Marchiano.
With 10 minutes to go, the midfielder tried to run onto a ball that left just the goalie in his way, but Marchiano slid in to upend the senior for a goal kick. Then, just a minute later, the two were matched up again. This time, a high cross had both players jumping up alone at the goal line, but Marchiano plucked the ball away to prevent a would-be header.
“The boys were all working hard,” Strohlein said. “I did what I could. (Coach Mike Otto) threw me forward to add another attacker. We just tried to make a little chaos up top and unfortunately, we didn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”
This is the second straight year that Holmdel eliminated Delran from the playoffs. In last year’s Central Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals, the Hornets outlasted Delran in penalties 7-6 after remaining tied 1-1 in regulation and overtime.
The season is over, but the Bears have to be happy with the effort they made to make it this far as an eighth seed in the South bracket. The season didn’t start the way the team wanted, but the Bears (12-7-5) made plenty of noise at the end.
“After that first (Rancocas Valley) game, I thought we gave (them) a pretty tough game and I think that kind of said to the guys that we have a good team and we can play with anybody,” Otto said. “When you can play against them, you can play against anyone in the state.
“We made some adjustments, we put some kids in different spots and we came together and got going. It has been a disappointing day, but not a disappointing season.”
Holmdel 2, Delran 0
Player of the Game: Holmdel’s Justin McStay accounted for both goals as the sophomore scored in the 14th and 59th minutes.
Play of the Game: Justin McStay scored off a bouncing ball in the box, putting it past Delran’s Phillipe Alves in the 59th minute to give Holmdel a 2-0 lead.
Well said: “We made some adjustments, we put some kids in different spots and we came together and got going. It has been a disappointing day, but not a disappointing season.” – Delran coach Mike Otto