Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 45
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
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SAD TUNE: Princeton High boys’ soccer junior stars Corey Marsh, left, and Will Slade console each other after top-seeded PHS fell 3-0 to No. 8 Neptune last Friday in the Group III Central Jersey sectional quarterfinals. The shocking loss was the first and only setback for the Little Tigers this fall as they finished the season with a 17-1 record.

PHS Boys’ Soccer Sees Unbeaten Run End as Unheralded Neptune Pulls 3-0 Shocker

Bill Alden

It was a feeling that the players on the Princeton High boys’ soccer team had not experienced once in a glorious fall.

As the players trudged off Harris Field after falling 3-0 to visiting Neptune last Friday in the Group III Central Jersey sectional quarterfinals to end the season at 17-1, they were in a daze.

Sam Kotowski pulled off his jersey and flung it to the ground while Nicholas Hughes had a blank, shell-shocked expression, and Kyle DeBlois stared up to the sky in disbelief.

The top-seeded Little Tigers had started the day with smiles as they briskly went through their pregame warm-up, confident that they could top No. 8 Neptune as they started their bid to make a second straight trip to the Group III Final Four.

But looking out of synch in the early going, the normally stingy PHS defense surrendered a goal on a restart just 10 minutes into the contest. The Little Tigers pressed forward the rest of the half and produced several good chances but couldn’t convert.

In the second half, PHS had much of the possession but faltered near the goal as the Neptune defense thwarted Little Tiger advances. The Flyers, meanwhile, coolly cashed in their opportunities, taking a 2-0 lead with 25:28 left on a beautiful move and shot by Michael Cozzetta and then tacking on its final tally with 9:53 left.

PHS junior midfielder Corey Marsh acknowledged that Neptune’s early goal changed the complexion of the game.

“We came out and gave it our best,” said Marsh. “They got that first one and kind of packed it in after that.”

Despite the team’s struggles, Marsh thought the Little Tigers could rally like they had done in a 2-1 win over Steinert in the regular season after trailing 1-0 at the half.

“I was very confident at halftime,” asserted Marsh. “I thought for sure that we would get one in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Even after 15 or 20 minutes, I thought we would get one.”

As the second half unfolded, it became clear that the ball wasn’t going to bounce PHS’ way.

“We possessed the ball well but once we got into the attacking third, we didn’t finish,” said Marsh. “Their sweeper No. 9 [Omane McKenzie] did a good job of preventing chances.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe credited Neptune with showing intensity throughout the contest.

“They did a really good job of getting to the ball first throughout the game,” said Sutcliffe.

“They were opportunistic in the first half, getting that goal on the restart. You give up a goal early in a tournament game and the dynamics change and that’s what happened in this game.”

After his halftime message, Sutcliffe hoped his team could shift the dynamics of the game back in its favor.

“We needed to step up our urgency a little bit; we weren’t getting to the ball quick enough,” said Sutcliffe.

“In terms of our attack, we wanted to get the ball out and get it to our big guys. We were able to do that but they did an effective job of trying to shut down Sam and Kyle. They did well; we should’ve been able to do better.”

With several other top seeds having already gone down in this year’s state tournament, Sutcliffe said that a team like Neptune (now 11-7) could pull some more surprises.

“They are a team that has a good chance to move forward,” said Sutcliffe. “Neptune has a good soccer history. You get into a tournament, your chances are as good as the other team, especially in soccer.”

While PHS squandered its chance in the state tournament, Sutcliffe lauded how his squad took advantage of opportunities throughout the fall.

“It wasn’t our day today but it was our season, especially in the regular season,” asserted Sutcliffe.

“We won the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) and we are proud of that. We’re very proud of that but this is a different stage of the season. I’m proud of the way we persevered throughout the regular season and set a high standard. We played with such perseverance in the MCT and wound up winning it, that’s a great accomplishment.”

Sutcliffe tipped his hat to his core of seniors. “Those guys have put forth four years of dedication,” said Sutcliffe, referring to Pablo Espichan, Diego Reinero, Pete McInerney, Ari Silver, and DeBlois.

“We knew about them before they got to high school. We could not have asked for more; they have had a great run in the past two years. We are very proud of their effort and their commitment to the team.”

Marsh, for his part, said the lessons learned from both the success and the setback Friday should help deepen the team’s commitment for next season.

“It was awesome to win the county tournament; we’ve been trying to do that since 2003,” said Marsh.

“We lost to Hun in the semis last year and it was great to get out there and win that. It was a huge disappointment to lose today. It’s definitely going to motivate us for next year. That’s the one good thing I can think of about today, it’s going to motivate the juniors to lead the team next year.”

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