By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Claude Monet was born in 1840 and lived until 1926, and during his life became one of the most well known French artists. He ushered in impressionism, which embraced a free-flowing style, and his paintings were full of color and depth.
There’s certainly an artistry to Jack Sarkos’ game on a soccer pitch, and he left quite an impression on Triton on Friday afternoon in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals.
Sarkos scored three times — displaying his uncanny combination of speed, body control and shot placement — and dished out an assist as Mainland rolled past Triton, 7-0, to advance to the sectional semifinals. The second-seeded Mustangs will host No. 3 Pinelands on Tuesday, and a win could match them up against arch rival Ocean City, the top seed, in the sectional championship game. The Red Raiders take on No. 4 Hammonton in the other semifinal.
“My teammates set me up for it. I couldn’t have done it without some great performances from them,” said Sarkos, a junior striker. “That’s everyone’s game plan, to come out and play well in the first five minutes. It just comes down to executing it. That was our game plan, and we just did it better than them.”
Triton came out with an early rush off the opening whistle, but Mainland quickly got the upper hand. In the second minute, Dan Adams, left defensive back, cleared a ball up to Sam Watt in the midfield, and Watt put a pass onto Sarkos’ toe. Sarkos did the rest, beating his man before gently chipping a shot over the Triton goalkeeper and into the upper-90 to put Mainland up, 1-0. Less than two minutes later, Keegan Ford was aiming for Sarkos on a long throw-in from the left side. The ball was too long for Sarkos, but Watt was right there for the diving header on the far post to make it 2-0.
“I’ve said it before, if a team tries to just focus on Jack and tries to stop him, he’s unselfish enough and we have enough around where we can put the ball into the back of the net with multiple guys. I’ve talked about our depth many times. Jack’s a special player, but we have guys around him who can play off him, and their chemistry really showed today,” said Mainland coach Chris Meade. “It’s contagious. The work of Sam Watt can’t be underestimated either. He’s the guy in the trenches doing all the dirty work and I see that. He was a workhorse today, and that’s contagious as well.”
Conner Juckett got in on the scoring action early in the second half, scoring a pair of goals in less than a minute as Mainland stretched its lead to 4-0 in the 54th minute. From there, Sarkos took over. Less than a minute after Juckett’s second goal, Ford pushed a pass up to Sarkos in the middle and with the keeper rushing out, Sarkos chipped the ball over him without breaking stride. Six minute later, he buried another shot for his third goal as the lead swelled to 6-0. Danny Alejo added a late goal for Mainland off a long throw-in from Devon Ford.
“We’re working together so well right now, and it feels great. The games are going to get tougher, but we just have to focus on our game plan, keep scoring and keep winning,” Keegan Ford said. “We wanted to get the ball up to Jack and let everyone else play off him. We wanted to score early, and score big, and that’s what we did. It’s great playing with him. Jack brings a presence that only dominant players can. Working with him, he makes our lives easier. His soccer IQ, it just comes. He’s out there every day playing soccer, watching soccer.”
“We expected them to come after us. They were probably looking for some revenge after we beat them last year. I don’t think anybody thinks we are seven goals better than them, by any stretch, but we talked about really getting on them early and maybe we could put a little doubt in their mind,” Meade said. “At halftime, we talked about the same thing. To me, the most important thing at home is getting a good start. If you can get one in the back of the net and use that momentum. They worked hard to put themselves in position to get home games (in the playoffs) and I told them to take advantage of that. They responded. You always hope for it, but with a veteran team that follows through with it, it just shows the character of these guys.”
Sarkos said the blowout win over Triton was just a stepping stone for a team that is seeking its second straight South Jersey title, and ultimately covets a state championship.
“We know our goal. We know we want to win states,” he said. “I want to do it for my seniors because I’ve been with them since I was 8 years old playing club ball, so I leave it all out on the field every time I play.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays