Aidan Passannante and his teammates were crushed when they walked off the field at Toms River North High last fall after losing to Timber Creek in the state Group III semifinals.
When PHS returned to the same pitch last Wednesday night to face Moorestown in this year’s Group III semis, the Little Tigers were determined to leave Toms River with a win.
PHS didn’t waste any time showing their intentions as Kevin Halliday scored 3:27 into the contest and senior midfielder Passannante followed suit 21 seconds later with a goal of his own.
“It was huge; we started off that way in the Allentown game and it helped us get the result in that game,” said Passannante.
“I think we got the goals early and we were keeping possession really well, moving off the ball.”
Passannante acknowledged that classmate Colin Lamb played a huge role in his goal.
“It was a great play by Colin, a great find by him,” recalled Passannante. “I was inside the six so I just poked it in.”
PHS ended up topping Moorestown by that 2-0 margin, warming up the chilly night as they enjoyed a raucous post-game celebration.
Passannante acknowledged that PHS’s quick start made the difference. “It was back and forth after we got the two quick goals,” said Passannante. “They had their fair share of possession throughout the game so I think it was huge.”
The stingy Little Tiger defense, which kept its shape as Moorestown desperately tried to get on the board, was also a huge factor in the win.
“The organization in the back was great,” asserted Passannante. “Pablo [Arroyo] was doing a great job of organizing back there.”
As a result, the PHS had a great feeling as they left Toms River and headed to the state final, the second trip to the final for Passannante, who helped PHS win the 2009 state title as a freshman.
“It feels really good because it was pretty disappointing last year walking off this field,” said Passannante. “I know how they feel so it feels great to be back.”
PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe credited Passannante with producing a great effort.
“I thought Aidan had one of his best games ever tonight,” said Sutcliffe. “Aidan had a great game and if we are going to be successful in these games at this level, he has to have a game like he had tonight.”
On Saturday, Passannante played well as PHS tied defending champion Ramapo 1-1 to end the season as Group III co-champions.
For Passannante, applying what he learned from his first title run helped PHS coming into last Saturday
“We are doing it the same way we prepared in 2009,” said Passannante. “We are just bringing experience, knowing what it is like, warming up each time before a game, being in the locker room before the game, walking out onto the field, being in a pretty big crowd situation so I think that is what we bring.”
Passannante and classmate Zach Halliday came full circle in their PHS soccer experience on Saturday as they bookended their careers with state titles.
“We have been playing together probably since third of fourth grade,” said Passannante.
“We have been playing together for a long time, great friends on and off the field. It is great that we are doing this together.”