DELRAN – Over the years, Delran High School boys soccer coach Mike Otto has come to rely on his senior captain John Strohlein for great leadership as well as for providing some big goals.
“Where he goes that’s where the team goes,” Otto said. “Today he stepped up and showed he’s one of the best players in South Jersey.”
Strohlein did so by depositing a free kick high in the upper right corner with 5:51 to play to help Delran pull into a tie with nationally ranked Pennington.
Then Chris Hunt scored on a rebound shot with 2:08 left to lift the Bears to a 2-1 non-league victory, running the record of SJSD’s No. 1 team to 4-0.
The Bears fell behind 1-0 late in the game on a Pennington goal from Nicolas Herrerias with 15 minutes remaining.
But Strohlein said Delran never gave up on the game, even though they were facing the No. 7 team in the country.
“We’re never ready to back down to anybody, we don’t care who it is,” he said. “Even if we go down in the last 10 minutes of a game we’re never going to stop.
“We brought the guys together and we said `this isn’t over. Let’s come back and let’s win this game.’’’
Otto was not surprised that it was Strohlein who fueled the comeback.
“We freed up Johnny a little bit,” he said. “He’s been getting marked up by some teams we’ve been playing, so we changed the formation a little bit and he was a real factor today.”
That was evident from the start. Delran dominated play early, forcing Pennington goalie Max Piando (eight saves) to make some big stops in the first 10 minutes.
During that time, Strohlein had three shots of his own and one of his attempts bounced off the goal-post, and one sailed just high over the goal.
“We had our chances in the first half which is always a good sign,” Strohlein said. “It means we’re going to get more chances the rest of the game. The defense played a great game, so all we had to do was finish.”
Meanwhile, Delran goalie Berkant Haliloglu (six saves) did a good job of keeping his team in the game, but he didn’t have to face a lot of tough chances.
When Herrerias finally beat him on a low hard shot from the center of the box, it didn’t look good for Delran, not with the goal coming that late in the game.
“When you’re going against one of the top teams in the nation you wonder if that’s it,” Otto said. “I knew we were not going to give up, but you wonder if you’re ever going to get that first goal and then the second one.”
Actually the door was opened for Delran when the Pennington goalie made a mistake. He scooped up a loose ball, and then stepped outside the box, creating a handball.
That gave the Bears a free kick from just outside the box, and Strohlein knew where he wanted to go with the shot – high and right.
“That’s where I was looking,” he said. “Me and (teammate) Mark Oliver were talking, and he said, `you’ve got to put this one on top.’ That’s exactly what I did.”
With the game now tied, Delran got an added boost when Pennington lost a player to a second yellow card with four minutes to play, giving the Bears a man advantage.
They dominated play during that limited stretch. They broke the tie when Daniel Strohlein won a 50-50 ball and fired a shot that bounced off the right post.
The shot caromed right to Hunt -- standing free, and staring at an open net.
He did not miss.
“That’s the biggest goal of my high school career,” said Hunt, a junior who now has nine career goals. “The goalie was a little bit out of position, so I knew I had to hit it into the net. I knew there was no chance that he could get to it.”
Bears 2, Red Raiders 1
Goals: John Strohlein, Chris Hunt, D; Nicolas Herrerias, P. Goalies: Berkant Haliloglu, D, 6; Max Pinado, P, 8.