Hammonton knocks top-seeded Ocean City out of playoffs
OCEAN CITY — In ancient times, out-numbered Spartan warriors employed a defensive formation called a phalanx, in which a group of warriors would gather together and allow their shields to form a defensive wall.
In the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals, eighth-seeded Hammonton employed a similar strategy after taking a 1-0 lead on No. 1 Ocean City early in the second half. The Blue Devils packed their defense in tight, clearing the ball as far as possible to make the Red Raiders go the length of the field for each of its offensive attacks.
The strategy frustrated the Red Raiders and paid off for Hammonton, as the Blue Devils held on for a 1-0 win and eliminated a team that had made three straight appearances in the sectional championship game. Hammonton takes on No. 4 Cherry Hill West, a 3-0 winner over No. 12 Seneca, in Monday's semifinals. Mainland, the third seed, and No. 7 Central Regional square off in the other semifinal.
"We knew it was going to be a battle, and it was, all the way down to the end," said Hammonton coach Steve Adirzone. "That's exactly what we tried to do, make them go the whole length of the field. I thought if we could do that it would open up some stuff for us in the middle of the field, and that's how we got our goal. Once we scored, they cranked up their pressure and were putting guys high, so I moved a couple guys back to try to mark them."
"We really like to get the ball wide and spread a team out, then serve balls into the box. That was the game plan, but when they pack it in, they have nine guys sitting in the box waiting for it. It's tough to play against (that style)," said Ocean City coach Aaron Bogushefsky. "We had to take our chances and shoot. It's a shame, but it is what it is and we have to deal with it. It's our home field, so we should have played better. You win some and you lose some. This one was hard to lose because we felt like we were the better team. But, they won, so you have to give them credit."
Ocean City (14-4-1) dominated for much of the game on offense, and its defense allowed just two shots on goal. Unfortunately for the Red Raiders, one of those shots came on a counterattack in the 45th minute, when Vince Petulla beat a defender and buried a shot into the lower right corner from about 15 yards out for the game's only tally.
"We've been playoff tested. We've been in one-goal games all year, so I didn't have an issue with us melting under the lights. I knew we would show up, and we did," Adirzone said. "We didn't have a whole bunch of pressure in the first half and (by halftime) it was 0-0. That was key for us, not getting down by a goal, and we had a chance to regroup at halftime and talk about a few things and make some slight adjustments. We relied on guys who were up top to score, and Vince was able to put one in."
Once Hammonton got the lead it was all about packing in the defense and clearing the ball as far down the field as possible. Still, Ocean City was able to generate plenty of chances to tie the game, especially in the final 20 minutes. The Red Raiders' best chance came with less than 10 minutes left, when Logan Bloomstead sent a beautiful cross past Hammonton keeper Devin Piro, but Luke Varallo's shot went just wide of the left post. Ocean City got another great chance with seven minutes remaining when Matt Brook was taken down just outside the box. Josiah Nistorenko sent in a cross on the ensuing free kick, but Bloomstead's header went high.
"They had a couple of glorious chances there, our keeper made some nice saves and they shot a couple wide. I thought (packing the defense in) was what we had to do to win that game, and it worked out in our favor," Adirzone said.
"That's probably the best word for it, frustrating. Our stats said 26 shots to two. They played physical and tough, and won 50-50 balls," Bogushefsky said. "We just didn't play well today. Give credit to them, they scored the goal and then packed it in. The part that bugs me the most is this team had so much potential. We played a lot of games where we played great, then we'd play games that left me scratching my head."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays