May 17, 2017

Riding Defensive Stand to MCT Title Game, PHS Boys’ Lax Steeled for State Tournament

IN THE CLEAR: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Ian Jacobs carries the ball upfield last Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament title game. Junior defender Jacobs fought hard as third-seeded PHS fell 9-5 to top-seeded Princeton Day School in the title game. The Little Tigers, who moved to 8-8 with a 9-8 loss at Westfield last Saturday, start play in the North Group 3 tournament this week where they are seeded sixth and will host 11th-seeded Warren Hills in an opening round contest on May 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Looking to make its first Mercer County Tournament title game since 2014, the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team had to rely on a late defensive stand to hold off upset-minded Allentown.

With third-seeded PHS clinging to an 8-7 lead over the seventh-seeded Redbirds in an MCT semifinal contest on May 9 at Hopewell Valley High, Allentown had possession with 23 seconds left in regulation.

PHS junior defensive star Ian Jacobs and the Little Tigers shut the door on the Redbirds, thwarting its attack by preventing any clear shots at goal to close out the 8-7 win.

“I was a little concerned there,” said Jacobs. “We were aggressive on one of the passes; I messed up one of their passes. We had some faith in each other and things started to work out there at the end.”

Coming into the contest, Jacobs sensed that upset-minded Allentown would be a tough nut for the Little Tigers to crack.

“We knew they were going to be a great team coming into this, obviously they proved themselves against Robbinsville,” said Jacobs.

“They played with that emotion; that is why it was so close at the end.”

The closeness among the defensive unit, which features Jacobs’ twin brother, Patrick, and senior star Tooker Callaway, gives PHS extra emotion on the field.

“Definitely playing together last year, we just have really good chemistry and we want to work hard for each other and make the next play,” said Jacobs.

“It is that love for each other that keeps us going and that has made all of us play better.”

Going to the MCT title game was a big step forward for Jacobs and his teammates.

“We haven’t done it since I have been here, it means everything,” said Jacobs.

Things didn’t go as well in the championship game two nights later as PHS fell behind 6-1 top-seeded Princeton Day School early in the second quarter. The Little Tigers rallied to make it 6-3 by halftime and drew to within 6-4 early in the third quarter in a goal by Johnny Lopez-Ona. PDS, though, regained the momentum and pulled away to a 9-5 victory.

PHS head coach Chip Casto was proud of how his team battled to the end.

“It was one goal at a time,” said Casto, who got two goals from sophomore star Dylan Westerman in the loss with Lopez-Ona chipping in a goal and an assist.

“We played better in the second half. We just had too many mistakes. They were man-up maybe six or seven times. It is tough, you can’t win that way.”

Casto tipped his hat to PDS, which earned its second straight MCT crown with the win over PHS.

“They played well and they are smart,” said Casto, whose squad moved to 8-8 with a 9-8 loss at Westfield last Saturday. “They get the ball in the right hands and they execute.”

In Casto’s view, his team’s run to the MCT title game will help it execute better in the upcoming state tournament.

“We will rest our injuries and go at it,” said Casto, whose team starts play in the North Group 3 tournament this week where it is seeded sixth and will host 11th-seeded Warren Hills in an opening round contest on May 17.

“It is great to have this tournament. PDS played well and deserved to win but it helped us get better. It is a positive thing.”

Jacobs, for his part, believes the way PHS played in its MCT run provides a blueprint for postseason success.

“It came down to playing as a team with communication and working really hard for each other,” said Jacobs.