by EDWARD KENSIK
for Montclair Local
In two consecutive games over three straight days, the Montclair High School boys soccer team turned its championship hopes over to its backup goalkeeper, Sebastian Herrera. And twice in three days, ‘Sebbi’ answered the call.
Herrera stopped the final penalty kick to give the undefeated Mounties a 5-4 shootout win over Seton Hall Prep in Saturday’s Essex County Tournament championship game, then stood tall Monday afternoon in a 4-2 shootout win over Union City in the semifinals of the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV tournament.
Both games officially are recorded as ties, but the Mounties (18-0-2) hoisted the Essex County Tournament trophy for the first time since 2013. And by advancing against Union City, top-seeded MHS earned a spot in the North 1, Group IV final today, Thursday, Nov. 8, against 14th-seeded Morris Knolls. That game will kickoff at 2 p.m. at Fortunato Field.
The sectional champion will advance to Tuesday’s Group IV semifinals at Franklin High School.
In Saturday’s ECT final at Millburn High School, the Mounties and Seton Hall Prep just could not hit the back of the net in regulation and two overtimes. But Montclair came through in the pressure filled shootout with a 5-4 verdict at Millburn High School that handed the program its ninth county title overall.
“It feels awesome getting over that hump,” said Montclair head coach Toure Weaver who is in his third year leading the club.
With 11.5 seconds left in the second overtime, Mounties starting goalie Ben Middlemiss collided with Seton Hall Prep’s Aidan Dunphy in the box, causing both players to leave the game.
As a result of the play, Seton Hall Prep was awarded an indirect kick just outside the box, to the right of Herrera, the Mounties’ backup goalkeeper, about 10 yards out.
But Herrera and the Mounties defense were able to swat the ball away in the final seconds. In previous years, the teams would have been named co-champions after playing through two scoreless overtime periods; this year, however, the rule was changed to allow a shootout to decide the ECT champion.
But even if Middlemiss was healthy, Weaver said he was going to go with the junior keeper.
“For penalty kicks you always look for that keeper who is a little nutty,” said Weaver.
And there was even a strategy about whether to shoot first or second in the shootout.
“Chris [senior captain Masur] asked me what I wanted and I said that we should go first and put the pressure on them,” said Weaver.
Both teams started off with successful penalty kicks in each of the first four rounds.
Montclair’s William More, Phillip Cubbedu, Evan Best and Evan O’Brien all were able to score on Seton Hall’s Liam Bertrand, while Seton Hall Prep’s Brian Zimmerman, Joe Kearns, Skyler Storms matched the Mountie scores.
So it came down to the final round. Montclair senior Will Buttner smacked a shot by Bertrand, forcing Seton Hall to match. But Herrera came out on top, blocking a low shot to his left and sending the Mounties storming out onto the field.
The junior backup keeper said that he thrives in the penalty kick situations and was looking forward to make that one or maybe two stops that would have decided the match.
“I’m really confident in the PKs [penalty kicks],” said Herrera. “I watch their eyes and which way they approach the ball.”
During regulation and the two overtimes, the 40-mile per hour winds played some havoc with the ball.
While Montclair had their chances, Weaver admitted that Seton Hall Prep had better chances throughout the 100 minutes of play.
“They’re [Seton Hall Prep] a great team and you have to limit their opportunities,” said Weaver. “I thought that we able to defend very well.”
KINGS OF THE SHOOTOUT
After their ECT win, there was no rest for the Mounties however, as the NJSIAA North I, Group IV semifinals awaited. The top-seeded Mounties hosted No. 5 Union City on Monday afternoon and it was another nail-biter, a 1-1 tie before the Mounties prevailed on penalty kicks.
With Middlemiss sidelined, Herrera got the nod and delivered an incredible performance, saving 15 shots.
Union City brought an aggressive, physical style of play which seemed to have Montclair off balance in the first half. The result was that the Soaring Eagles were able to strike first on a confused moment by the MHS defense.
UC’s Erick Chicas broke downfield and appeared to be offsides when he received the ball from a teammate. It was at least close, but there was no whistle. The Mounties seemed to assume there would be and paused, however, and when no call was made, they appeared to be caught off-guard. As a result, Chicas had nobody near him as he slid the ball past Herrera for his 33rd goal of the season.
It would take the Mounties until the second half to find the equalizer, but they did when Will Buttner scored a goal off a Marcos Ribeiro pass.
The Mounties dominated the second half, but were unable to score the game-winner.
It was the same thing for two scoreless overtimes, as the Mounties again had chances they didn’t finish due to some tough defensive play and goaltending by UC.
And so, once again, Herrera found himself in the net for penalty kicks. The teams each made their first two PKs, but Union City’s third shooter hit the crossbar.
Two straight makes from MHS made it 4-2, and another off-target shot from UC clinched the Mounties’ victory, sending them back to the North 1 sectional final.