Wall’s NJSIAA Tournament run continues.
After defeating ninth-seeded Spotswood in the first round and upsetting top-seeded Bordentown in the quarterfinals, the eighth-seeded Scarlet Knights made it three in a row with a 2-1, overtime upset of fifth-seeded South River in the Central, Group 2 semifinals on Wednesday afternoon.
Wall advances to its first sectional final since 2019 and will face second-seeded Holmdel on Saturday. The Hornets defeated sixth-seeded Manasquan 2-0 in the other semifinal. It will be the third meeting of the season between those two teams, and first since Holmdel knocked Wall out of the Shore Conference Tournament in October.
“I think as a group we always expect to win, we always train to win, we prepare to win and we never go into a game doubting ourselves,” Wall senior defender Matthew Armenti said. “We’re always fully confident, we always have the desire. I think the mentality has changed over the past two weeks, we’ve really found that belief, found the chemistry between each other and that just showed here today.”
After battling to a 1-1 tie in regulation, junior midfielder Boden Pepe scored the game-winner in the 88th minute to send the Scarlet Knights into the sectional final.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight, we had to win every 50/50 ball and we knew we had to play a lot of direct balls since it was hard to play possession,” Pepe said. “We knew we had to put the first one in, we had to keep winning those 50/50 balls and play great as a team and we did.”
Wall scored first in regulation when senior forward James Damiano beat his defender and poked a shot past South River goalie Anthony Costa in the 45th minute.
“I think those direct balls over the top really worked for us,” Pepe said. “I think we got a lot of chances off of that and luckily we converted on one.”
Almost 20 minutes later, a direct kick found South River’s Tiago Capela who scored after a scrum in front of the net to tie the game 1-1 in the 62nd minute.
“Obviously you never want to give up a goal, but we knew it wasn’t going to be easy coming into this game and we never doubted ourselves,” Armenti said. “When that goal went in we knew we were still going to fight to get back into the game, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Saturday’s sectional final will all be familiar for Wall. The Scarlet Knights last won the Central, Group 2 title in 2019 with a 1-0 victory over Ocean Township as the No. 1 seed. They then fell to Millburn in a shootout in the Group 2 semifinals.
“I think it’s very important, a lot of the guys, we have a lot of young guys, this is their first real state run and to have those older guys like myself that can provide some guidance, it’s very crucial,” Armenti said. “It takes the burden off of their shoulders and pressure off, it lets them feel more comfortable and I think that’s very important going into this next game.”
Last year, Wall fell in the sectional quarterfinals to none other than Holmdel, 4-3, in a shootout. This season, the Scarlet Knights have lost both previous meetings against the Hornets, losing 2-0 on Sept. 28 and 1-0 on Oct. 14 in the second round of the conference tournament.
“Having that belief within, to keep working hard and keep having that belief that you can win, because if you don’t believe you can win then you’re just going to go out there and get killed,” Armenti said. “Because every team in this league is very strong, very well-rounded and everybody comes out here ready to go so if you don’t bring that same energy you’re not going to go very far.”
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