(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
SUPER SAVER: Hun School junior goalie David Putman holds on after making a save in action earlier this season. Last Friday, Putman made several key stops, including two saves in a penalty kick shootout, as Hun outlasted Notre Dame on penalty kicks to win the Mercer County Tournament title.
When Hun School goalkeeper David Putman injured his left shoulder in the team's win over Pennington School in early October, it looked like Raider defense may have a huge hole to fill.
But fighting off the pain, Putman returned from the injury three days later to help spark a Hun victory over archrival Lawrenceville and the Raider defense has maintained its stingy ways.
Last Friday, Putman and the Hun defense were at their stifling best as they fought Notre Dame in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) boys soccer championship game at Mercer County Community College.
Battling through a chilly downpour, Hun stymied the Irish, holding them scoreless through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime.
In the penalty kick shootout that ensued to decide the title, the junior goalie kept the door closed as he made two saves and watched another fly over the goal as Notre Dame couldn't find the back of the net. Meanwhile, Hun was on target as Steve Gianaccio, Matt Florio, and Mike Williams each coolly blasted their penalty kicks past Notre Dame keeper Carl Appel to clinch the win and the program's first-ever MCT crown.
The triumph set off a raucous scene as the Hun players ran to the stands to salute their fans, whose enthusiasm never dampened despite sitting through the pouring rain.
A soaked Putman couldn't stop smiling as he reflected on Hun's sterling defensive effort. "We just played smart," said Putman, who made six saves on the evening. "Our defense played amazing and just backed me up today."
In the shootout, though, Putman was on his own as Hun's last line of defense. "I was just guessing and going by instinct," said Putman, in explaining his approach during the game's nerve-wracking finale. "I went whichever way I thought they were going and I just stuck with it.
After the first save, the team got pumped up." Focusing on the Notre Dame shooters helped Putman forget about his ailing left shoulder which is held in place with a large black brace.
"I tore a ligament in it," explained Putman, who hurt his shoulder when he dove to stop a Pennington shot and landed in a heap. "I wear a brace so it doesn't hurt as much. It pops out; I'm getting surgery in the offseason."
The win over Notre Dame helped take away some of the pain that Putman and the Hun veterans still feel from losing 1-0 in overtime to Steinert in the 2004 MCT title game. "We wanted some payback from losing to Steinert two years ago," maintained Putman. "We think about that game everyday."
Hun head coach Chris Kingston believed that the loss to Steinert played a role in helping his team outlast Notre Dame
"Maybe we learned from two years ago," said Kingston, whose team improved to 13-1-1 with the victory. "Two years we were controlling play so much; it became frustrating when we weren't scoring. Tonight it seemed more even and nothing was going to frustrate us. We weren't going to get frustrated whether we scored or not. We were just going to keep knocking."
Kingston, however, had hoped that the game wouldn't come down to a shootout. "It was a very well played game against a very good team," said Kingston. "I personally don't like the shootout and I can't say that because we won, that we should go into a shootout. But that's the rule. And I would say that it makes fans happy."
During the shootout, Kingston seemed to be happy as he ran behind the Hun bench and implored the Raider fans to keep cheering.
"I know that at that point we have done everything we can," added Kingston. "Even if you lose that way, you don't really lose so there is no reason to be nervous. But I was enjoying myself because we made every kick.
Kingston enjoyed seeing Putman handle things in goal for the Raiders. "I'm very confident in David; he's pretty amazing," said Kingston of his keeper who has posted 10 shutouts so far this season.
"He's only been playing goalie for a year. He's only playing because Kevin Morse tore his ACL last year. He'd be a starting defender for me otherwise. But he has so much natural ability and he has a knack for it because he can guess right and if he does guess right he's probably going to get a piece of it."
Having senior star Matt Sanford on the field for the first time since he fractured his foot in mid-September also gave Hun confidence.
"It was a huge emotional lift," said Kingston, whose team fell 3-2 to Peddie last Monday in overtime and will host Blair this Wednesday in the state Prep A semifinals. "The kids know he's one of the best players in the area. I knew that if I had Matt Sanford to play even a little bit maybe it would have a Willis Reed effect, even if he played for 10 minutes."
In Putman's view, the Hun players have been boosting each other all season long. "We believe in each other," said Putman.
"We worked hard in the preseason; we were running every day. It just all came together for us. We've been facing adversity all year with Matt Sanford out. We got lucky and it worked out for us."
And having a player like Putman in goal has worked out well for Hun.
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