PITTSGROVE – After taking a pass from Tyler Lunsford near a couple defenders, Michael D’Orio had to do the rest himself.
With two Lindenwold players bearing down, D’Orio dribbled the ball, danced around them and ripped off a shot. As the ball skipped past Lions’ goalie Enmanuel Ortega and into the net, the Cougars swarmed D’Orio to celebrate while the Schailck student section went wild.
D’Orio had scored the golden goal, his second in as many games, and gave the Schalick High School boys’ soccer team the South Jersey Group 1 championship with a 2-1 overtime victory on Friday.
“I can’t even comprehend words right now,” D’Orio said. “I’m so excited. Just to make it to this game is awesome, but being able to contribute to the win is unbelievable.”
With the victory, Schalick (21-1) captured its first sectional title since 2007 and the eighth in the program’s history. The Cougars will play Central Jersey champion South River in Tuesday’s state semifinal.
The game-winning goal capped a comeback for the Cougars after they found themselves down 1-0 heading into halftime. Though trailing at the break, Schalick coach Joe Mannella knew he could get his team back on track.
“We just had to regain our composure a little bit,” Mannella said. “We’ve been down this year a couple times and we’ve come back every single time except for the one Kingsway game. We had the wind going down that end. We knew we were going to get our opportunities. Experience played a big part. These guys have all been through this and they know that you got to just keep playing and it’ll happen.”
It didn’t take long for the Cougars to get their feet under them once the second half began, and much like on the overtime goal, D’Orio was the center of the play.
Schalick worked the ball into Lindenwold’s end where D’Orio gained possession. Taking the ball off his body, D’Orio found Lunsford in space and he rocketed a shot out of Ortega’s reach inside the top right corner of the net to tie it at one less than four minutes into the half. It was Lunsford’s fourth goal of the playoffs and 20th of the season.
“A beautiful ball from Matt Francisci,” D’Orio said when asked how he was able to set the play up. “I saw Tyler right in the opening and coach told me to play it to the open man if it’s too far from the net and that’s exactly what I did.”
The goal seemed to change the tide of a game that felt like it was all Lindenwold’s up to that point.
The Lions came out firing. The first real opportunity in the contest came early when Ortega launched a long goal kick to a streaking Oumar Sylla who shot it from a third of the way out. It looked like the ball would sail easily over the net, but it ended up ringing off the crossbar and just missed being a spectacular goal.
But almost midway through the half, Sylla would pull off an even more impressive play to open the scoring. He possessed the ball in the attacking end looking for room to make a move but couldn’t find any. Sylla then reared back and struck the ball in what looked like a way just to get it deep, but the ball curved enough to clank off the corner of the right upright and into the net.
The Lions weren’t the favorites against the top-seeded Cougars, but they proved they wouldn’t go down without a fight. Their effort caught the attention of Mannella and he had a lot of good things to say about Lindenwold following the game.
“They came out really hungry,” he said. “They were the underdog on the round, and they came out and played like you’ve got to play and took the game to us. We did a good job of not freaking out a whole lot. We made them chase, and on this big field, it takes a lot out of you. I think that’s a huge factor because, after halftime, they had a couple flurries, but I think we really wore them down.”
Though it was a tough way for it to end, the season was historic for Lindenwold (14-6-2). No team in the school’s 14-year existence had ever made it to a sectional final – in any sport.“
Coming up short really sucks,” Lindenwold coach Jason Snyder said. “I’m proud. You can’t be more proud for the season. [Schalick] is a good team and we lost, but I can’t be more proud of the kids. They did a great job all year.
“I know as I look back, it’s going to be better than it is it right now. … As a whole, there’s a hole. They’re a big strong team and they won. They put the balls in the net and they finished their chances while we didn’t finish ours. No shame and I wish them luck.”
Schalick will try and capture its third state championship in program history and first since 2004. Mannella said he’s going to let his guys enjoy Friday’s victory but they need to be ready to quickly shift their focus to the next one.
Schalick 2, Lindenwold 1
Player of the game: Schalick’s Michael D’Orio for his game-winning goal and assist on the game-tying goal in the second half.
Play of the game: Schalick worked the ball in front with a cross with just under nine minutes remaining. Lunsford got it and shot the ball but Ortega made a diving save to his left to keep the game tied at one.
Well said: “For these guys, we’re in uncharted territory. A lot of the pressure to win is off. It’s gravy now. Every team is good at this point, so it’s not like you’re the No. 1 seed going in and everybody is gunning for you. That bit of pressure is off.” – Schalick coach Joe Mannella.