BY ANDREW GARDA
CALDWELL — The Montclair Mounties boys soccer team always rises to the occasion when it faces its opposite number from Seton Hall Prep.
On Tuesday, Oct. 12, the Mounties once again found themselves locked in a titanic struggle as they took on the Pirates in the Essex County Tournament semifinal at Caldwell High School.
The two teams traded shots in a hotly contested and, at times, very chippy match, but in the end, MHS fell short with a 1-0 loss, just its second of the season.
For Montclair head coach Touré Weaver, even though the victory eluded them, the effort was nonetheless worthy of praise.
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As far as the coach is concerned, the Mounties are a team poised to do some serious damage come the state tournament.
“I’m proud of us,” he said. “It’s not the result we want, but going into states it shows we can compete with anybody.”
Weaver made sure to reiterate that to his team when they gathered after the loss, telling them that they should realize that exact thing and that the game was within their grasp and how near a thing it was for the Pirates.
“They know that,” Weaver said of Seton Hall Prep, which celebrated the victory as if it was the championship itself.
It was a tale of two halves for the Mounties, who seemed to start the game on their back foot, allowing Seton Hall to press the attack while also disrupting Montclair’s counter.
Despite that, MHS held the Pirates off, stymieing Seton Hall’s efforts until, with 9:55 left in the half, the Pirates dropped a ball in front of the Mountie net off a free kick.
Montclair’s defense, as well as keeper Gabriel Smullyan, tried to clear the ball but couldn’t, and Eddie Krupski buried it in the back of the goal to give Seton Hall a 1-0 lead.
Montclair solidified on defense again after that, and in the second half seemed to have more momentum on offense. While the dangerous Pirate attack continued to keep Smullyan on his toes, Montclair was able to put together some nice set pieces to generate offensive chances off free kicks and some massive long-distance throw-ins by Nick Levine, who at times seemed to threaten to throw the ball directly into the net.
“We were after them, you know?” Weaver said of the second half effort. “We were chasing the game a bit in the first half, but in the second half I thought we were really moving the ball well. We had them pinned down, and I’m proud of us.”
However, Seton Hall goalie Aidan Batista made clutch save after clutch save, throwing his body into swarms of Mounties to try and clear or grab the ball. His efforts kept the sheet clean for the Pirates, and were a big reason why Montclair left the pitch disappointed.
“He was really good in the air, when we were pumping those balls in there, he was really good punching stuff out,” Weaver said. “He came up big for them, and Gabe was really good for us, too.”
Both Batista and Smullyan played excellently in goal for their respective teams, and their play will have a huge impact as both teams head into their brackets for the state tournament.
Montclair came into this season a young, unproven team that had to replace 11 starters. Weaver said the team has begun to play with more and more confidence as the Mounties realize what they can be capable of.
“These guys are starting to believe in themselves,” he said. “That second half you saw, it was belief, and that’s what we need.”