GLASSBORO – It may feel like a lifetime ago to some, but Washington Township Alex Desiderio still remembers feelings of devastation.
“When they put me in the ambulance, they said they thought I had a broken femur,” the junior said of an injury that happened in the opening round of the SJSCA Coaches Tournament. “I thought my season was done. I thought that was it.
“Once they told me it was a deep bruise, my only thought was get back on the field for the (NJSIAA State Tournament). I missed the Coaches Tournament but get back on the field to play with this team. All I could think about was giving back to this team and this program. We’ve been so close that I wanted to get back for games like this one.”
Washington Township left no doubt about their status as the top team coming out of South Jersey in Group 4 with a 4-0 win over Central Jersey champion East Brunswick at Rowan University on Tuesday night. Chad Yates broke a five game scoring drought to record his 25th and 26th goals of the season, Desiderio found the next once and senior Sam Flaiano scored his first career varsity goal as the Minutemen advanced to the state final set for 10 a.m. Saturday morning at Kean University. In that game the Minutemen will face Morris Knolls which has adopted Cinderella’s slipper advancing as the 14th seed and beating heavily favored Elizabeth in the other state semifinal game.
“I know that for some strikers five games is an issue,” said Yates, who also has ten assists this year. “But for us and for me, nothing matters as long as the scoreboard reads right at the end of the game. As long as we win, that’s all that matters and to get past this game after two years of it coming to an end here, that’s huge.”
Township (24-1) has won five straight South Jersey titles but in each of the last two seasons, after consecutive state titles, lost in the semifinal round. Yates put the Minutemen on the board on a rebound midway through the first half as Township had much more of the play throughout the half.
That said East Brunswick did have one huge opportunity with 8:32 left in the first half but keeper Mike Pagano was having none of that. The senior went horizontal to knock away a shot left open by the one-time, all night, the Township defense lost its shape, but the save preserved a 1-0 lead and that’s all that really mattered.
“I know this felt a little like the Coaches Final (a 2-1 loss to St. Augustine in which Township led 1-0 at half),” said Pagano, who made five saves on the night. “I think we knew that we couldn’t let down. We’ve had good communication all season and tonight that was true as well. I just knew we had to keep the lead into the half and the first ten minutes of the second half and we would be fine.”
“We could have had a goal or two more,” Desiderio said. “But we’ve been a second half team all year. I think we knew that we could open it up in the second half.”
“We have such a strong senior class, (12 in all) that once we got the lead, I don’t think we ever doubted how this game would end,” said junior midfielder Ryan Cleary, who has battled back issues all season and like Desiderio missed the Coaches Tournament Final. “You want to get those guys back to the final. It’s important for all of us to get back to the final for those seniors. We’ve learned a lot from all of them that you play though pain, you find ways to contribute. Everybody is sore right now but we’re not finished.”
Still a 1-0 lead is treacherous at best but Yates came through with his second goal, this off a restart and East Brunswick, which had allowed just one goal in four Central Jersey games, looked defeated.
“They knew what was on the line,” head coach Shane Snyder said. “I think they knew if they let up even for a second, a loss tonight would leave a bad taste in their mouths even after three straight sectional titles.
“This team is special in so many ways. You look at this senior class and every single one has worked incredibly hard for four years to get here. I’m not sure this is the right term, but it doesn’t happen that you can in a phrase empty the bench. We got everyone in and how about Sam? How great is it that he got a goal.”
All of which means the Minutemen get to play together one more time and with a singular focus.
“We’re not done,” Yates said. “Not even close.”
Minutemen 4, Bears 0
East Brunswick 0--0----0
Washington Twp. 1--3----4
Chad Yates 2, Alex Desiderio, Sam Flaiano.