BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - The Buena Regional High School boys soccer team was not itself in its playoff opener Thursday.
The Chiefs were missing three of their four team captains for disciplinary reasons and two more starters due to injury. They had not practiced in a week due to Hurricane Sandy. The storm left their field unplayable, so Buena hosted the game on St. Augustine Prep's artificial turf field.
All that wasn't enough to stop Buena, though.
Zayne Czeronka scored on a header off a free kick in the second half, and Jake Bleyhl made 10 saves as fourth-seeded Buena beat 13th-seeded Bridgeton 1-0 in the South Jersey Group II playoffs.
The Chiefs will host fifth-seeded Deptford at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"We knew it was going to be a battle," Buena coach Tom Ruhl said. "At halftime, it was a back-and-forth game, and I told them, 'The game's probably going to be won on a corner or a free kick.' I explained to them that when we get our free kicks, we want to get them over the line and look for a head ball. Mainly Zayne, who's our tallest guy now with a few other guys out."
Czeronka, a sophomore defender, usually comes in as a substitute. But he started Thursday in part because the hurricane prevented regular starter Matt Schmidt from seeing a doctor to get clearance to return from a sprained ankle.
Czeronka made the play of the game, though.
Jordan Castellari took the free kick from the right side, just outside the 18-yard box. Czeronka got into position, went up and deflected it perfectly past the keeper.
"Jordan played a great ball, near post, and I did what I could to get a touch on it and get it into the net," Czeronka said.
Before Czeronka's goal, the Chiefs had just one shot on net. Bridgeton controlled most of the first half and the beginning of in the second half.
"We held them throughout the whole game, (but) we were getting pressured," said Bleyhl, who had a school-record 10 shutouts in the regular season. "We got up one time, got our one shot and got a goal."
Bridgeton thought it had taken a 1-0 lead early in the second half. Bleyhl came out of his net to catch a long, high ball near the top of the box, and as he came down, he collided with one of his teammates and a Bridgeton player.
The ball came loose and the Bridgeton player tapped it into the net, but the referee whistled the play dead, explaining later that the Bridgeton player had pushed the defender into Bleyhl.
"We controlled the whole game," Bridgeton coach Tom Masucci said. "We played extremely well. I believe the goal that was disallowed sort of (deflated) us a little bit because after that we just did not pressure them as much as we had the whole game."
Buena had not played since last Thursday, when it beat Cape May Tech 3-2. The Chiefs had Homecoming festivities Friday, and players spent the weekend helping families in the area prepare for the hurricane.
Ruhl had hoped to practice Wednesday, but Buena's field was still too wet. Buena does not practice indoors because a player hurt his ankle playing on hardwood several years ago.
The Chiefs could have tried to postpone Thursday's game, but instead they chose to work with St. Augustine.
"I didn't want to wait any longer," Ruhl said. "We've played all season. They've been in shape all year. Five, six days off is not going to completely ruin their ability."
The hurricane's biggest impact might have been that the three missing senior captains cannot serve their suspensions until school resumes. For Buena, which is serving as a shelter, that will not be until Monday.
The Chiefs plan to play their second-round game Saturday on their home field. While they hope to have Schmidt back, too, they again will be without the three suspended players and midfielder Gary Clarke, who has a concussion.
"(Thursday's win) was pretty big because now our team probably has momentum for the other games and they believe we can actually do it now," Czeronka said.
Contact Jason Mazda:
Bridgeton 0 0-0
Buena Regional 0 1-1
Goalies-Martinez (2) B. Bleyhl (10) BR.
Records-Bridgeton 1-13-1, Buena 16-5.