By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — When the St. Augustine Prep soccer team dropped a 2-0 decision to Shawnee on Friday, the Hermits got away from the type of soccer that has made them so successful this season. On Tuesday afternoon, their patented possession style with quick-strike ability was on display all day and frustrated visiting Ocean City, a team that came into the game with an unblemished record.
The Red Raiders barely touched the ball the first five minutes of action as Prep used pinpoint accuracy in its midfield passing game — like an amoeba, the Hermits pushed forward but when they didn’t get the look or opportunity they wanted, they patiently played the ball to the back line to start the process all over again. It was a clinic in possession soccer, and it didn’t take long for Prep to lull Ocean City to sleep — then pounce.
In the seventh minute, junior striker Aidan Davis scored the first of his hat trick of goals, and before halftime even arrived it was clear St. Augustine was well on its way to cruising to what eventually became a 3-0 victory. With the win, Prep improved to 8-1-1 while Ocean City fell to 6-1.
“The past few games we’ve been a strike-and-mark playing style but I feel like yesterday we had a really solid practice, trying to get back to the way we normally play. Coach (Jake Heaton) was really stressing right from the start that we play the way we usually do,” said Davis, an Egg Harbor Township resident. “The past few games I’ve been a little lacking but it feels great to come out here and start hot and get a couple goals in. (With the first goal) it was definitely a tough position (O.C. keeper Kyle Plenn) was in. When I saw him coming out, my first instinct was to just get him out of the net and get it wide open, and just slot it past him.”
St. Augustine Prep made it 2-0 in the 19th minute as Davis corralled a through ball, beat a defender momentarily, then drilled a shot past Plenn from about 20 yards out into the right corner of the goal.
“Whenever the ball gets put in that position, it’s always hard when your back is to the goal, but the main idea was to just get the ball across or get open for a shot,” Davis said. “It only takes a couple of inches to get open, so as soon as the ball got cleared from that one defender, I knew I had to take the shot.”
“Coming out of the Shawnee loss, we changed up our game plan a lot. We knew we had to get into our attacking third and kind of possess it around there, find feet and play around the defense, and just stay patient. That was a big thing for us today, stay patient. We did that, we found Aidan’s feet, and he put it away for us,” said senior midfielder Mike Balestriere, a West Deptford resident. “Particularly the first couple of minutes of the game, they didn’t touch the ball the whole time, and then we scored a goal off of that and I was like, ‘wow, our game plan is actually working.’ We couldn’t really ask for more today. We knew we had some tough games coming up and we had to play well, and we just executed our game plan of possession.”
Ocean City had some good pressure following the Hermits’ first goal, but couldn’t really muster any solid chances at the woodwork, as Prep keeper Gavin Brown was forced to make just two saves to Plenn’s 10. Luke Salmon, Sal Curcuru and Ethan Torpey were the assist men on Davis’ goals, the last of which was a simple redirect of a ball into the box.
“They came into this game undefeated and we recently came off a loss to Shawnee, so we realized this was a game where we really had to bounce back. We came out fast and stayed fast the entire game,” Davis said.
Added Balestriere, “It’s a great feeling to know that we played our best and coach was happy with it. That gives great motivation to the whole program.”
What’s next: Ocean City hosts Lower Cape May on Thursday at 11 a.m. St. Augustine Prep travels to Vineland on Friday at 2 p.m. at Gittone Stadium.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays