By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
During its three wins in the Central Jersey Group III tournament, the West Windsor-Plainsboro High North boys soccer team has shown it can win a number of different ways.
The Knights have a prolific scoring attack, which is led by the combination of Josh Schupak and Vincenzo Pugliese. But they also have a tremendous defense, which posted back-to-back shutouts to send the Knights into today’s sectional final at Ocean Township.
The fourth-seeded Knights reached the CJ III title game with an impressive 2-0 win over top-seeded Wall in less than idea conditions on Tuesday. Schupak and Pugliese each scored a goal, while the defense did the rest to preserve the win.
“I thought we played fantastic,” said North coach Trevor Warner, whose team improved to 12-6-1. “Especially considering the conditions. It was raining all day and it was coming down sideways with the wind. But they had access to a real nice turf field so we were able to get it in. It was not always pretty but we got the job done.”
The Knights scored both of their goals in the opening half and the defense kept Wall off the board the whole game. In its three state tournament games, North has outscored the opposition, 7-1.
“We were opportunistic,” Warner said. “We had a few chances and we were fortunate to put a couple away. Both were very good goals. Vincenzo hit a great shot from 25 yards out and that was a great start. And then Josh beat three guys and cut across the center and hit it to the ‘keepers left as he was shifting right.
“Then it was just a matter of the defense doing the job. Wall was very dangerous on corner kicks and our guys did a fantastic job. Mike Bamford was winning everything in the box. Chris St. Amour and Alex Lu have been steady. We play with three in the back and they have more responsibility because I think it is important for us to play five in the middle.”
The defenders in front of goalkeeper Oliver Sapon have gotten the job done al; year. It’s a group that has really come together.
“Alex Lu has been a guy that has worn many hats,” Warner said. “Outside of our team he has played outside mid and center defensive mid and now he been asked to play in the outside back spot and he has done it gracefully. Chris St. Amour on the other side was a midfielder everywhere he has played. He has been asked to put his personal preference aside and he has done a great job.
“I can’t give enough credit to our backs and Oliver in goal. Everybody knows what Josh and Vincenzo have brought to our team. We have 43 goals and the two of them have 29. Josh has 17 goals and 11 assists and Vincenzo has 12 goals and two assists. Every team know they have to contain those guys and they continue to get the job done.”
The combination of offensive firepower and a strong defense has the Knights playing for their first sectional title in seven years.
“The team has really come together,” Warner said. “Josh and Vincenzo have realized how much each of them helps the other. Teams can’t try to stop just one of them because then there is the other one to deal with. And our guys in the midfield like Brendan Cortez at center mid as well as guys like Tommy Bartell and Sanka (Sarbadhikary) they all just grind it out and disrupt things in the middle.”
It’s made for a recipe of success for the Knights, who now have a chance to win a sectional title.
The Princeton boys had hoped their first year in Group 4 would result in a sectional championship, but the Little Tigers ran into a tough Freehold Township team and fell, 3-1, on Tuesday in the Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals.
The game was a bit disjointed as Freehold scored early to take a 1-0 lead before the game was stopped for about an hour due to a thunder and lightning delay. The Little Tigers fell behind, 3-0, in the first half before a Dwight Donis goal in the second half cut the lead to 3-1. They kept the pressure on and even had a failed penalty kick attempt but could not score again.
I am so proud of the way our guys responded in the second half,” Princeton coach Wayne Sutcliffe said. “That is what this Princeton team is all about and we could have come within one. Their goalie had a big day.”
Princeton, the No. 3 seed, opened the tournament with wins over Marlboro and East Brunswick before falling to the seventh-seeded Patriots. The Little Tigers finished the season 16-2-3.
“It was a very successful season,” Sutcliffe said. “We had two good (state) games. Last Friday’s game (a 3-1 win over East Brunswick) was great. It was a little disappointing despite the fact that we won the league outright. We won the CVC championship. We made it to the semis of the MCT. It is kind of hard to quantify it right now but in a week or two I think I will have a better, clearer view.”
Princeton will graduate 15 seniors and it was a class that enjoyed nothing but success.
“We had 15 seniors and they have won everything you could win in New Jersey soccer except a state championship,” Sutcliffe said. “Not many teams or players in New Jersey can say that. They came in here in 2012 and were undefeated as freshmen. They scored something like 84 goals and gave up four. And they just kept getting better.
“Their class had more success than I think just about any other class in the history of my days here. They won everything they could win. They won the league title twice. They won the MCT. They won the sectional title and they finished the regular season undefeated. So what you can say?”
The Princeton girls saw their state tournament run end with a 3-0 loss at Freehold Township on Monday. The Little Tigers had reached the sectional semifinals with wins over Sayreville and Monroe before falling to the No. 1 seed.
“It was a great run,” Princeton coach Val Rodriguez said. “This tournament was phenomenal. They peaked and did really well. The win over Monroe was great as was the win over Sayreville. Today, the play in the first half was good play for us but in the second half we couldn’t hang.”
The highlight of the tournament was a 2-0 win on the road at Monroe, where the Little Tigers picked up goals from Taylor Lis and Collette Marciano.
“We possessed well and scored two phenomenal goals,” Rodriguez said. “It was a good way to continue our season. We’re proud of picking up two wins in the states.”
The Little Tigers will graduate 11 seniors, a group that will certainly have left its mark on the program.
“When they entered it was a season where I have to admit our expectations were for a rebuilding year and we won state sectionals that year,” Rodriguez said. “It would have been really cool to end their career with another one. But moving up to Group 4 and seeing some tough teams it was a challenge.
“We have a core that is still returning so we’re not done. You never know with girls soccer who will be coming out but we have a good core returning.”
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor