By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — Even though Friday’s Cape-Atlantic League American Conference showdown against Millville was scoreless at the half, host Hammonton looked like a team that knew it was going to win, some way, somehow. That’s the kind of confidence a team has when it hasn’t lost a match in three weeks.
The patient Blue Devils just kept building offensively, making strategic runs at Millville keeper Matt Sooy and the Thunderbolts’ defense. They didn’t panic, didn’t force shots. They knew it was going to be a one-goal game because it almost always is.
Hammonton got the goal it needed in the 49th minute when junior forward Marco Schiano corralled a ball, turned and ripped a shot from about 20 yards out into the lower left corner past a diving Sooy. The Blue Devils’ 1-0 win over Millville pushed their unbeaten streak to nine games since a 3-1 setback against St. Augustine Prep back on Sept. 15. Hammonton lost two of its first four games, but since then has seven wins and two ties.
“I saw two defenders on the sides of me, so I had a gap to shoot. A couple of my teammates were calling for the ball, but as soon as I saw that space I just rolled the ball out and hit one into the corner,” Schiano said. “It was a really close game — and even after the goal it was a close game — and that was our first shot in a while. I just decided to shoot it.”
Hammonton coach Steve Adirzone said he loved to see how patient his offense was in the second half despite the pressure of being locked in a scoreless tie.
“In the beginning of the season that was our issue, we’d get a little frantic, but we’ve learned. These guys are experienced players and they played the right way for 80 minutes today,” he said. “They jumped on us early and it took us about 10 minutes to get our bearings, but once we did we started to knock the ball around the way we were supposed to, and I think we carried the play. The last four games we played (against Millville) were all one-goal games. We knew they were a very good team and that one play would probably decide this game.
“We have some talent up top and we tell these guys that when they have that opportunity, especially in a game that we know is probably going to be a one-goal game, just let it fly.”
Millville (5-4-1, 3-4-1 CAL American) had a great opportunity to take the lead late in the first half off a long throw in to the box by Terron Stevenson, but Hammonton keeper Michael Darnell made a diving save on the shot, one of his six stops on the afternoon. The Blue Devils cleared the ensuing corner kick to escape trouble.
From there it was all Hammonton (8-2-3, 7-1-2 CAL American), as the Blue Devils dictated the pace of play and tried to find ways to get around Millville sweeper Spencer Hickman-Hakola, who did a tremendous job clearing danger from the back third. Hammonton had most of the better chances in the second half, and needed just one to convert to walk away with a win.
“We started really slow and our energy was a little low, but just like we did the last time we played them, and all the other games (since that loss to Prep), we came through together and found a lot more energy in the second half,” Schiano said.
“We’ve been really working hard and staying together as a team, trying to fight through some of these hard games. That was a really hard team right there, but we stuck together,” said senior captain Carter Bailey. “In the second half we just came out a little stronger, started pressing them a little higher and we were able to put the ball into the net. The last time we played them we beat them 2-1 and we scored in about the last five minutes of the game. They are a really tough team. They are really organized and (Hickman-Hakola) is really good, he really commands their defense back there.”
Hammonton has some tough games coming up next week, including ACIT on Tuesday and then a big showdown against Egg Harbor Township on Thursday.
“Everybody is buying in and trusting each other, and playing the right way. Nobody is trying to be the hero. If a guy is open we get the ball to his foot. It’s all about just trusting your teammates right now,” Adirzone said. “I told the boys we just have to stay focused. We’re competing now for different things, but we can’t get too far ahead. Right now we just have to concentrate on ACIT and whatever happens after that, happens.”
Added Bailey, “we’re mostly just trying to stay positive. We have a lot of talented guys on the field, if we just work the ball around we’re going to get opportunities to put the ball into the net.”
What’s next: Hammonton hosts ACIT on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Millville hosts Bridgeton on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays