Antonio Matos and St. Augustine soccer team are peaking for the playoffs
The Hermits, fresh off winning the South Jersey Coaches Tournament championship, are 15-3-3 with 12 shutouts.
When the shot went in, Antonio Matos sprinted toward his sideline, rainwater splashing up behind every step. The wide-eyed look on his face was easy to read.
"I was just like, 'Wow, I can't believe that really worked,' " said the junior striker for the St. Augustine soccer team.
Matos netted the winner midway through the second half of the Hermits' come-from-behind 2-1 upset of Washington Township in Saturday's Coaches Tournament championship.
It was a signature win, just the second time the Hermits had ever won the annual tournament.
For Matos, it continued a run that has felt almost like a dream. He entered the Coaches Tournament with just two goals this season and five for his career.
But he had three in the tournament, including the winner in the semifinals against Seneca and Saturday's go-ahead goal — a long, bending improbable shot in the pouring rain to send his team to its biggest win in years.
"I'm just out here to do my job," said Matos, a junior from Hammonton. "This win means a lot because these seniors have taught me so much in my three years here. They've taken me under their wing. I feel like this win was for them."
Although he hasn't been a star for St. Augustine this season, in many ways Matos is a fitting symbol of the Hermits' success. He isn't flashy. His game and style are understated. And he continued a trend: The Hermits have benefited from different players stepping up at times throughout the season
"He's a quiet leader on our team," Hermits coach Steve Rolando said of Matos.
That's a common trait, it turns out, among the Hermits.
St. Augustine — which enters this week's Non-Public South A tournament as the No. 2 seed — has been led largely by its defense this year. The Hermits (15-3-3) have posted 12 shutouts. Offensively, Kevin Witoski, who netted St. Augustine's first goal against Washington Township, leads the team with 11 goals, and Matos is second with five.
What has really been the team's trademark this season, though, is chemistry.
It was clear against Washington Township. After falling behind, 1-0, in the fist half to one of the most imposing teams in the state, St. Augustine opened the second half on fire. Energy fed from the sideline to the players on the field, and it didn't let up even as the wind and rain intensified.
"We wanted to come out flying," Matos said. "We wanted to put pressure on them. We knew if we didn't let up, we'd have a chance."
Being from Hammonton, Matos has a relatively short commute to St. Augustine's Richland campus compared to many of his teammates, who hail from all over South Jersey.
The Hermits haven't known each other for most of their lives like many of their opponents. They didn't grow up playing soccer together.
It just seems that way. And those bonds, the players say, constitute their biggest strength.
"I feel like I've created bonds on this team that I'll have for life," Matos said. "These guys are great. And we know if we want to keep this going into the playoffs, we just need to stick together."