METUCHEN – On a windy, cold and overall terrible day for soccer, the South River boys soccer team weathered it all for a sectional championship.
With a rough midseason stretch behind them, the fifth-seeded Rams defeated second-seeded Metuchen 2-0 in the NJSIAA Central Group I Tournament final on a blustery Friday afternoon.
“I’m real proud to see where we’ve come as a team,” South River coach Eric Clays said. “We were a little stuck in mediocrity earlier in the season, and I’m proud they’ve saved their best soccer for last.”
It was clear from the start that the 20 MPH winds were having an affect on both sides. Both offenses seemed a bit sluggish as they tried to battle the wind.
In the last minutes of the first half, Metuchen got Rams goalie Erick Lucas off his line as Ayush Sood took a shot on net, but Ian Sawicki got a head on the ball and cleared it.
“He’s a high school superman,” Clays said. “I consider him as good of an athlete as there is in high school.”
Metuchen coach Ed Albanese wasn’t discouraged by the near miss and felt his team was knocking on the door of a goal.
“A goal before half is critical, but that’s when we noticed a change in momentum,” Albanese said. “I thought we were eventually going to score.”
The momentum shifted early in the second half when Metuchen was called for a foul along the sideline. South River’s Jonathan Franco served the set piece into the box, where Sawicki scored to take the 1-0 lead.
“(Franco) crossed it in, and I just went to the ball and flicked it out,” Sawicki. “I just hoped for the best.”
Shortly after, the Rams were fouled again, but this time in the box. Franco converted on the penalty kick for a 2-0 lead.
While some teams may have folded, Metuchen played its best soccer after going down two goals. The offensive attack was relentless and the Bulldogs nearly got on the board late in the second half when a Greg Poandl shot nearly nicked the right post.
“Our thought process was that we were coming back and tying the game,” Albanese said. “That’s the mentality of this team. They’re focused and nothing ever fazed them.”
The gusts of wind played into the hands of South River. Metuchen likes to send the ball in the air but with the wind unpredictable, it was tough going for the Bulldogs
Rams’ defenders Michael Pisco, Ryan Farrell and Jonathan and Michael DaSilva were outstanding and posted the shutout.
“We really leaned on them as a coaching staff to play harder with a chip on their shoulders,” Clays said. “That’s what they eventually did.”
South River will return to action in the Group semifinals on Tuesday at Haddonfield High School at 7:30 p.m.
Staff Writer Daniel LoGiudice: firstname.lastname@example.org