WEST WINDSOR: Bason continues winning tradition

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
JAMESBURG — Although the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South boys cross country team fell short in its quest for a sixth straight Mercer County title, Tim Bason was able to continue one tradition for the Pirates.
Bason was the overall top finisher in last Friday’s Mercer County Championship meet at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. He became the fourth straight Pirate boy to capture the county title, although the Pirates fell short in their quest for another team title.
Bason covered the 5k course in 15 minutes, 42 seconds to outdistance Robbinsville’s Zach Minon and Princeton’s Alex Roth for the individual title. As a team, the Pirates finished third behind Robbinsville and Princeton. The Ravens finished with 74 points, while Princeton was second with 77 and South was third with 90.
“I took it out as my own race,” said Bason, who followed Jake Riff, Tom Vinci and Nikhil Pulimood as county champions. “I did what I had to do and had a good time. I used to live in Spotswood so we would always run here. I used to play soccer on these fields when I was a little kid and once I started racing here it felt fine.
“I knew Alex was with me. He would come up on the side and we would run along together. As soon as we hit that second mile I just kind of took it.”Bason, who was second in the race last year, wanted to make sure the Pirates’ tradition of Mercer champs continued and he did so in impressive style. His 16 second margin of victory in the boys race was the largest since Brian Leung of South won by 25 seconds in 2007.
“Last year Nikhil won this and I came in second right behind him,” said Bason, who was the fourth straight winner to have finished second the year before winning. “We’ve kind of had this tradition of the past few years of South kids winning this so it means a lot to keep that tradition going.
“Running with Nikhil really helped. He was my mentor in a lot of different ways with running. The season has been going well. I am just trying to see how far I can keep it going and have a good time while doing.”
South coach Kurt Wayton was happy with the way Bason ran. Now he hopes the rest of his team can follow suit as the season heads into sectionals and beyond.
“We’re still working fairly hard at the top,” Wayton said. “Tim has a couple of key workouts he has to get together. If he does that he’ll be successful down the stretch. I think he is one of several runners that can win the whole thing this year. We just have to really dial in. The later it gets in the season the more important every day is. You can’t have a bad day. You have to stay dialed in and stay healthy. If he can do that he is going to be tough to beat.”
Dexter Benkard was the second finisher for the Pirates, 16th overall. Alex Perti was 22nd, Sam Williams 24th, and Joshua Forrest 27th to round out the top five for the Pirates.
Princeton, with Roth leading the way, was an impressive second just three points behind Robbinsville. Roth was right with Bason for the first mile-plus of the race before dropping off just a bit.
“My strategy was to try to stay with Tim as long as possible and then after that try to take care of everybody else,” said the junior, who finished in 15:59. “Right around a mile and a half or two miles he started to separate. I felt like I ran a good race and was confident throughout.”
Roth was third, while the next three Little Tigers all finished in the top 20. William Hare was 11th, Alex Ackerman was 14th, and Jeremy Taylor was 20th. Cy Watsky was 28th to round out the top five for Princeton.
“We have sectionals in two weeks and then hopefully groups,” Roth said. “We are going to have to work really hard to qualify out of sectionals. I thought today we did pretty well. I was happy how we did and I thought we had a good team effort.
“We have that pack and it is very strong. It helps us win against good teams. We know the course well and that helps us know what we need to do as a team.”
While Princeton came close to winning the meet, head coach Mark Shelley was happy with the way his team ran and loved seeing their improvement.
“We’re pleased,” Shelley said. “I think you can look at it two ways. On one hand the disappointment right now is palpable. They certainly wanted to win. But at the same time when you run a race like that where our team average was phenomenal you give credit to the other team. We also know Robbinsville has four very good runners and three of them are seniors.
“We don’t look ahead to next year but we also know we have a lot to build on. This was a huge step for us from a very distance fifth last year to almost winning it this year. It will give them some motivation for the offseason and into next year.”
After finishing fifth a year ago, the Little Tigers were happy to move up to second this year.
“We knew that we would be better,” Shelley said. “But if I told you that we’d come here and all of our guys would run like we ran, it’s phenomenal. I’m proud of them. We’re looking forward to doing some more training and getting ready for sectionals. We know we’re in the toughest sectional of the state. Five of the top 20 teams in the state are in our sectional.”
West Windsor-Plainsboro North finished fourth, led by the 13-place finish of sophomore Matt Santamaria. Jonathan Logan was 18th, Shu Ming Teoh was 19th, Nicolaus Stalzer was 26th and Atharv Kulkarni was 36t to round out the top five for the Knights.
“We’re a really young team so we have some guys that are learning on the job still,” North coach Brian Gould said. “Our top guy, Matt Santamaria , is a sophomore and he ran fantastic. I think that with every meet that goes by these guys are getting just a little bit better and a little bit better. I think we ran well today but we could do better.
“Everybody was right around where we expected them to be. Our second guy today was an underclassman who ran very well and our fifth guy was a sophomore who is a tough kid who ran two minutes faster today then he did at this meet last year. So we had some young guys step up and do well and I think they are going to keep getting better.”
The Hun School finished 13th as a team led by Alex Ill who finished 48th., while Thomas Hopkins was 65th.
Princeton Day School was 16th with Kevin Sun leading the way in 81st place. 