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Vol. LXV, No. 45
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton High boys’ soccer star Aidan Passannante controls the ball last week in PHS’s 3-1 win over Neptune in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional. Last Saturday, junior midfielder Passannante opened the scoring with an early goal as top-seeded PHS beat No. 8 Hightstown 3-1 in the sectional quarterfinals. PHS, which improved to 17-0-2 with the win, was scheduled to play No. 13 Jackson Liberty on November 8 in the sectional semis with the winner advancing to the title game on November 11. The Little Tigers have advanced to the Mercer County Tournament championship game against Pennington which is tentatively slated for November 9.

With Passannante’s Early Goal Setting Tone PHS Boys’ Soccer Rolls Into Sectional Semis

Bill Alden

Aidan Passannante has been a superb playmaker this fall for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team, utilizing his deft passing to set up a number of key goals.

But last Saturday as top-seeded PHS hosted No. 8 Hightstown in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional quarterfinals, the junior midfielder displayed his finishing skill.

With just over three minutes gone in the contest, Passannante took a pass from Kevin Halliday and blasted it into the net to put the Little Tigers in front.

“Kevin saw the play develop and he made a great pass; he split the defense and I just ran on to it and finished,” recalled Passannante.

“It was definitely important; it set us off on the right foot for the rest of the game. I was definitely due for one. It was a good overall goal; it was a good pass by Kevin and a good finish.”

PHS scored eight minutes later on a Kellen Kenny goal to go ahead 2-0. But Passannante and his teammates knew they couldn’t relax.

“Coach [Wayne Sutcliffe] always enforces the idea that 2-0 is the most dangerous score in soccer, so we were definitely wary of that,” said Passannante.

That concern proved warranted as Hightstown came out in the second half with guns blazing, controlling possession and scoring five minutes into the period to make it 2-1.

But PHS regrouped as Passannante’s classmate, Zach Halliday, launched a 30-yard bomb that found the back of the net to give PHS a 3-1 lead midway through the second half. The Little Tigers never looked back, winning by that margin and improving to 17-0-2.

“That was a great finish by Zach; it was Kevin who laid the ball off to him,” said Passannante. “It sealed the game for us.”

Passannante acknowledged that he was concerned that the game may be getting away from the Little Tigers.

“They were definitely controlling the first 15-20 minutes of the half,” said Passannante. “They had a lot of possession and a lot of chances.”

As a battle-tested performer for PHS, Passannante is looking to help the squad make the most of its chances.

“I see myself as a leader,” said Passannante. “I have been on this team for a few years and I have seen the bad and the good. I think this team has what it takes to go far. I think we are starting to click more and put a few more in the back of the net.”

PHS head coach Sutcliffe was happy to see Passannante find the back of the net.

“What a great start, you can’t ask for anything more from them,” said Sutcliffe. “We were really firing on all cylinders early in the game. It was a timely goal from Aidan; we have been waiting for it.”

Sutcliffe acknowledged that his team struggled to deal with a fired up Hightstown team in the early stages of the second half.

“They were controlling the run of play and the pace; they were dictating the game,” said Sutcliffe, whose team was slated to host 13th-seeded Jackson Liberty in the sectional semifinals on November 8 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 11.

“That is a concern; we have to be better when the pressure is on like that. All credit to Hightstown. They are a good team, they have some special players who really get it. They understand the game.”

The Little Tigers, though, showed their game in producing the insurance goal by Halliday.

“That was a timely goal from Zach, preceded by some beautiful soccer,” asserted Sutcliffe, whose team has also advanced to the Mercer County Tournament championship game against Pennington which is tentatively slated for November 9. “It is great to see him get a timely goal and score that one. That is two goals for him in the last three games.”

Princeton also got a great effort on the back line from junior Pablo Arroyo.

“I thought Pablo had a great game; he really gave everything he could,” said Sutcliffe. “He was a huge factor for us out on the right flank so credit goes to him.

While Sutcliffe credits his team with raising the level of its game in the postseason, he thinks there is room for improvement.

“Their confidence is high; their determination is right where it needs to be,” said Sutcliffe. “We need to keep getting better on both sides of the ball.”

Passannante, for his part, believes the Little Tigers are determined to keep progressing.

“I think we are starting to peak at the right time,” said Passannante.

“This is when we want to start peaking and playing our best and I think it is starting to come together. I still think we can do better but we are on our way.”

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