Fluid ball movement and strong defense have been the trademarks for the Timber Creek Regional High School boys’ soccer team all season, and a major reason why the Chargers were awarded the No. 1 seed in the prestigious South Jersey Coaches Cup. Those traits disappeared over the final moments of Saturday’s quarterfinal showdown with Moorestown, and as a result, the Chargers’ tournament run ended much sooner than the team expected.
A series of failed clears culminated in Michael Handlin being wide open in front of the net in the games final minute. Handlin didn’t miss, scoring the only goal his team would need with 38 seconds left for a 1-0 quarterfinal victory.
The play was set up by a couple of defensive miscues that allowed Alex Cannuli to find Handlin in front of the net.
The goal left the Chargers stunned and wondering how they could play their worst at such a crucial time.
“It seemed like they just checked out,” said Timber Creek coach Sean Ortzman. “I don’t know if it was fatigue or if they already thought they were going to overtime, but I don’t know what happened. I can’t make an excuse for them.”
The Chargers were their typical selves for much of the game, moving the ball with crisp passes and never playing with a sense of panic. That changed over the final few minutes as Moorestown picked up the intensity.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” said midfielder Alex Kourahanis. “We came out playing really well, possession the ball and passing. Then we kept gradually not passing the ball and just dribbling. We just kept losing the ball and that didn’t help us at all.”
The win was a bit of redemption for Moorestown, which was eliminated from the playoffs by Timber Creek the last two years. Last year’s game was an overtime thriller in the Group 3 semifinals that was won by the Chargers in penalty kicks.
“We knew it was going to be a good game, and it was going to be tough,” Ortzman said. “We just have to put away the opportunities we have and we didn’t do that today.”
The game was originally scheduled for Friday afternoon, but was postponed when officials ruled the field unplayable due to the rain earlier in the day. With the semifinals slated for Sunday, the game had to get in Saturday. The postponement of the game left many of the Timber Creek players frustrated, but not as much as the final result.
“We lost because of laziness and miscommunication,” said Kourahanis. “We just kept losing the ball and everyone was walking back and not defending.”
Each team created several quality scoring chances with both goalies standing up to the task. Timber Creek net-minder Trevor Tierno made six saves, including a couple at point-blank range. He had no chance at the game-winner.
The loss ends any hope of Timber Creek returning to the Coaches Cup final—it placed second last year—but there is still plenty for the team to play for, with the Olympic conference title race and Group 3 playoffs on the horizon.
Rather than telling his team to get over the loss, Ortzman wants the reality of the situation to sink in.
“I think this needs to sting,” Ortzman said. “If it stings them enough then they are going to come out playing. We have Cherokee, Shawnee and Cherry Hill West the next three games and then we have a first round playoff game after that, followed by another conference game. We have five big games in the nest eight days and we really have to step it up and play.”
Kourahanis said the team knows there is no more margin for error.
“I expect a lot of work in practice,” Kourahanis said. “We need to start stepping our game up because none of this can happen. We have to play our full 100 percent every second of the game.”