WILDCATS CLAWING THEIR WAY BACK TO WINNING WAYS
By Eric Braun
TUCKERTON – When head coach Nino Scotto DiCarlo took over the helm of the Pinelands boys soccer program back in 2016, the Wildcats were coming off a run of two straight winning seasons, but he wanted more for the Tuckerton community and boys soccer program. DiCarlo, himself a Wildcat alumni, wanted to vault the program back to championship form and in just three short seasons, he has instilled the winning culture to do just that.
Last season Pinelands finished 11-5-1 and earned its second straight B South division crown, but fell short of their expectations for a deep Shore Conference Tournament run, losing in the opening round to Colts Neck, 3-2, in overtime, and lost, 1-0, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 final. The Wildcats, under DiCarlo, have produced three straight double-digit winning seasons that have resulted in a 44-14-2 record.
This season the Wildcats are looking to finish what they started last season in the Shore Conference Tournament, NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 tournament and a third straight division title.
“We have some very talented players on our team who are super confident in their abilities. This is also an extremely coachable group,” said DiCarlo of his current team. “They are receptive to learning new tactics and they do a great job applying these tactics in games. Overall, the team is tightly knit and possesses a great deal of camaraderie.”
Looking to raise the program’s first sectional title since 1989 will be the veteran group of seniors Anthony Aguilar, Jake Doyle and Creed Nass, juniors John Hart, Carter Mathis and Gavin Harris, and sophomores Adam Grelak and James Cahill.
“All of our seniors have done a great job putting the team first and leading by example. They are dedicated to the program and set a high standard, on and off of the field, for the rest of the team. I am proud to coach them,” raved DiCarlo about his core of returning seniors.
The Wildcats are off to a 5-1 start that includes a five-game winning streak after their opening-day loss to Jackson Memorial. Pinelands battled the Jaguars but fell short, 3-1, with Hart getting the Wildcats lone goal on assist from Nass. Against Shore Regional, after their bus broke down, the Wildcats stayed focus and outplayed the home Blue Devils and left West Long Branch with a 2-1 win behind goals from Hart and Johnson and assists from Grelak and Cahill.
Against Lacey, the Wildcats would earn their first shutout win with Hart scoring two goals on assist from Aguilar and Harris earning the shutout in goal with just five saves. Against Jackson Liberty, the offense found the groove early and often enroute to a 5-1 victory behind goals from Grelak, Hart, Johnson, Nass and Aguilar on assists from Alexander Dimm, Tyler Piazza and Brogan Duelly. Against Point Pleasant Boro to wrap up their first two weeks of the season, the Wildcats worked to secure a 1-0 victory over the Panthers and give Gavin his second shutout of the season.
Pinelands knows after the past two season of reigning B South, they are the hunted team in the division and again are up to the task. They will rely heavily on their midfield which is the strongest unit returning from last season that is led by Aguilar, Doyle and Hart.
With their strong start to the season, Pinelands is already on the road to another successful season and will be tested this coming week with where they stand among the top teams in the Shore Conference as they host undefeated Barnegat on Tuesday and undefeated Holmdel on Saturday. The old saying of “If you want to be the best you need to beat the best” will be put to the task for the Wildcats.
“I know the boys want to win another B South title. They are also focused on making deeper runs in the state and Shore Conference tournaments,” added DiCarlo of the team’s expectations for the rest of the year. “With their work ethic and ability, these goals are definitely attainable.”