By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
History has proven to the Princeton High boys soccer team to never take the opening game of the state tournament lightly.
A year ago, the Little Tigers needed a goal late in the game to hold off an upset bid by Hamilton West before going on to win the Central Jersey Group 3 title and eventually reach the state final.
This year Princeton has moved up to CJ 4, where they opened the state tournament as the third seed and needed a late goal for a 1-0 win to survive an upset bid by 14th-seeded Marlboro.
“This is the same as last year when we made that run to the finals,” said Princeton senior Cole Snyder, who scored the game’s only goal with just over two minutes to play. “We had a hard time against Hamilton West. It was a 1-1 stalemate until the last two minutes and Chase Ealy banged one in to seal the game. I have really been trying to assume his role on the team this year. I definitely wanted to mimic him on that winning goal.
“They were a strong team, not your typical 14th seed. We’re new to Group 4 and we know all of these teams are strong in this tournament. The first game is always hard. But after this performance, especially on the defensive front, I feel like we can play with anyone.”
Princeton was one of four Packet-area soccer teams to advance in the opening round this week. Montgomery, the No. 5 seed in CJ 4, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1 win over Old Bridge. Rory Kemmerer scored three goals to lead the Cougars, who will play at fourth-seeded Monroe today. WW-P South, the No. 9 seed, dropped a 5-0 decision at eighth-seeded Manalapan.
In CJ 3 play, fourth-seeded WW-P North topped Allentown, 3-1, as Josh Schupak, Vincenzo Pugliese and Keval Kothary each scored a goal. The Knights will host fifth-seeded Burlington Township in the quarterfinals.
In girls soccer tournament play, Princeton opened the CJ 4 tournament with an 8-2 win over Sayreville. Serena DiBianco and Taylor Lis each scored twice for the fifth-seeded Little Tigers, who were scheduled to face fourth-seeded Monroe on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Also in CJ 4, 15th-seeded WW-P South dropped a 4-0 decision to No. 2 seed Hunterdon Central. In North Jersey, Section 2 Group 3 play, WW-P North fell at sixth-seeded Nutley, 5-1. Taylor Wasserman scored the lone goal for the Knights.
Princeton needed the late-game heroics to advance and host sixth-seeded East Brunswick in the quarterfinals today. In a game that featured very few scoring opportunities, the Little Tigers took advantage when one finally presented itself.
“Owen (Lindenfelder, the Princeton goalkeeper) made a nice punt,” Snyder said. “He has been hitting them well all season and has really come into his own. He’s made some big saves and he hit a monster punt. I heard their kid say he couldn’t see it so I gunned it down in the hopes of hunting it down. It started bouncing and I just stayed with it. I think I had their goalie and the defender’s hands on my back. But I didn’t think anyone was going to tear me down in the box. I put a foot on it and tapped it in.”
With the win, Princeton improved to 15-1-3 and kept alive the final goal left to achieve for a senior class that started their careers with an unbeaten freshmen season in 2012.
“We want to go out guns blazing,” Snyder said. “We’ve won the county. We’ve won the CVC. We’ve won the Group 3 section. We want a state title now. It’s been a strong class. From the beginning of freshman year it has been our dream to win a state and county title. We won the county title now we want the state title.”
Snyder’s goal has Princeton on the road to making that happen. His speed and effort made all the difference after chasing down the punt from Lindenfelder.
“He always works hard,” Princeton coach Wayne Sutcliffe said. “It was good soccer sense, specifically from Owen to hit that long one. We always tell him to find one of the two forwards immediately and he did. He really got a hold of that thing and Cole did a great of just trying to fight and get a good touch. That’s what it is all about in that regard. Credit to Cole and to Owen on the play.”
Sutcliffe has been around long enough to know when it comes to the state tournament you can’t pay attention to seeds and in the end it’s just a matter of survive and advance.
“You’re playing in a tournament and it’s not about the performance as much as it is about the result,” Sutcliffe said. ”And the first one is the hardest one. The first one of often times harder than the final.
“We’re in Group 4 now and we’ve looked forward to that challenge since we learned we were bumped up. It’s a new challenge. We had a lot of success in Group 3 and we are hoping to replicate that in Group 4.”
PRINCETON: Snyder’s goal gets PHS rolling
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor