October 25, 2017

Sparked by Hasegawa’s Versatility on Back Line, PHS Boys’ Soccer Advances to MCT Semifinal

By Bill Alden

When the Princeton High boys’ soccer team played Allentown earlier this month, it dug a 2-0 hole before pulling out a dramatic 3-2 win.

Last Saturday, the rivals met for a rematch in the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament and third-seeded PHS utilized a new look in an effort to stifle the sixth-seeded Redbirds.

“We recently created a new formation and one of the key aspects of it was that we drag the opponent to the middle so that our outside backs can get more space,” said PHS senior defender Jun Hasegawa. “That is what we are focusing on.”

Hasegawa found space late in the first half, slotting a pass that Josh Nieman banged home for a goal. Allentown responded with a goal early in the second half to knot the game at 1-1. But foiling the Redbirds for a second time in weeks, senior midfielder Drew Beamer tallied to give PHS a 2-1 win.

The victory advanced the Little Tigers, now 12-3-1, to the MCT semis where they were slated to play second-seeded Pennington on October 24 with the winner advancing to the title game on October 26 at The College of New Jersey.

Hasegawa wasn’t surprised that PHS was able to come through under playoff pressure.

“We know to keep our heads up and keep going from that point on,” said Hasegawa.

Keeping his head up helped Hasegawa come up with an assist on Nieman’s goal.

“We have a good triangle linking me with Atticus Lynch and Josh Nieman,” said Hasegawa.

“Atticus saw my run and he dragged it to the side, which gave me the space to go forward. They focused more towards Atticus which left Josh isolated and I found him.”

In describing his role for PHS, Hasegawa is focused on using his speed and skill.

“Pace is one of the biggest aspects that coach [Wayne Sutcliffe] likes to utilize,” said Hasegawa.

“With this new formation, I am able to go forward a lot more, I can track back and utilize my pace and get down the flank.”

In Hasegawa’s view, the battle-tested Little Tigers are on the right track.

“This is a senior heavy team and we have two, three, or four years experience, and we even have some young players who are stepping up to their expectations as well,” said Hasegawa. “We are all ready, we have the tight mentality, we are seniors.”

PHS head coach Sutcliffe liked the playoff intensity his team exhibited on the win over Allentown.

“It is survive and advance,” said Sutcliffe. “Every game is a one off, so you have got to try to have that mentality. Every play has to be a World Cup play; every moment is a World Cup moment because you are in the end of it.”

The Little Tigers produced a special moment when they jumped out to the 1-0 lead.

“It was a great combination, it is one of our patterns of play,” said Sutcliffe. “You can’t really serve a ball better than Jun did. In terms of the finish for Josh, I am just so happy for him. Since the end of last season, he has not played all season. That is the story of the game. He has been injured and not fully fit to make an appearance in a match until this week and sure enough in the second game, he scored the opening goal.”

Hasegawa has been a very good story this fall for PHS. “As a wingback, he is just so good,” asserted Sutcliffe. “He battles and his decision making is good. He has got multiple dimensions to his game. He can get up into the attack, he can serve a great ball, and he has great feet. Jun is a warrior.”

Hasegawa, for his part, is ready to battle to the end in tournament play.

“Before every game we have been having a tactical talk with the coach,” said Hasegawa.

“We have been planning different tactics and different plays. We are not going into this absentmindedly, we are going in with a plan. We know what we are doing. We know how to talk and we have an idea of what we are getting into before every game.”