• Dan Russoman

Blue Devils advance to CAL finals


Carter Bailey controls the ball early in Hammonton’s victory against Middle Twp. in last weekend’s Cape Atlantic League semifinals. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

CAPE MAY COURTHOUSE—Marco Schiano’s goal late in the first half was the game-winner as Hammonton High School’s boys soccer team edged host Middle Twp. 2-1 to advance to the Cape Atlantic League championship game.


That game was played earlier this week, as third-seeded Hammonton hosted the tournament’s fourth seed Egg Harbor Twp. (EHT). EHT won the other of last weekend’s semifinals, downing top-seeded St. Augustine Prep 2-1.


“Every player on this team contributed to this. All 21 of them. We weren’t sure what to expect today having not played them [Middle] this season, but our guys stepped up and played a great game,” Hammonton coach Steve Adirzone said.


Few expected Hammonton to contend for the CAL title this season. The Blue Devils returned to the league last year, but were limited by a season shortened due to COVID-19. Prior to that, Hammonton spent six years in the Tri-County Conference, something Adirzone believes helped his team become more competitive.


“Not to knock the Cape, but in the Tri-County, we were seeing top competition almost every game. In our conference now, every couple of games, we play someone who’s down or rebuilding. We didn’t see that as often in the Tri-County, so I think our kids were used to playing against a very good team,” Adirzone said.


Schiano agreed.


“It started in the preseason. We knew this season was going to be a long, hard season, but we kept working hard and I’m hoping we are going to do very good things in the future,” Schiano said.


Gavin West gave Hammonton the lead in the game’s 16th minute, fielding a deflected shot from Nick Iuliucci and sending shot past Middle goalie Devon Bock, who had come out high in the box to defend against Iuliucci.


Less than three minutes later, Middle tied the score when Xander Hardin sent a shot into the net off a pass from Steven Berrodin.


With 7:52 remaining in the half, Schiano corralled the ball off a corner kick from Ty Lowe and sent a hard shot past Bock to give Hammonton a 2-1 lead.


Playing into a strong wind in the second half, Hammonton took a more defensive-minded approach and it paid off as the Panthers were unable to work themselves back into the game.


“They’re [Middle] a very dangerous team and we knew they’d get a few chances in the second half, especially because the wind was causing some havoc out there. We made some adjustments at half to try to limit them a little bit and it worked out. They have a lot of talent and I really thought there’d be another goal or two scored, so give our defense some credit,” Adirzone said.


Hammonton was outshot in the game 10-6, but its defense didn’t allow many clean looks at the goal and keeper Chris Volk was excellent, making eight saves, including a few in traffic.


“Offense gets the glory, but those guys we have on the back line, they’ve done a great job for us all year long. They get pressure and they get the ball out. They’re a good group and we wouldn’t be where we are without those kids,” Adirzone said.


Schiano contributed to Hammonton’s defensive effort and was quick to praise his teammates.


“Going into this game, we knew we could rely on and trust our defense. Just one goal today, our defense stopped them,” he said.


As for his game-winning goal, Schiano felt it gave the team the energy it needed to close out the win.


“I thought it brought our energy up. After that, we knew we could win it,” he said.


The win at Middle was Hammonton’s fourth-straight, including victories last week against Atlantic City and Atlantic County Institute of Technology (ACIT).


The Devils scored five first-half goals in a 6-1 win at Atlantic City. Jaxon Miller and Iuliucci each had two goals in the game while Schiano and Carter Bailey each added a score. Volk made three saves and Luke Griscom had five.


Against ACIT, West had two goals, and Bailey, Schiano, Lowe and Andrew Gollihur had goals in Hammonton’s 6-2 win.


Volk recorded four saves.


Hammonton hosted EHT in the CAL championship game on October 18, but that game ended too late for this edition. On October 20, the Blue Devils host Mainland at 4 p.m.