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game and made an immediate impact. Using his speed and guile, Ealy corralled several balls in the offensive end for PHS. Then with just under 18 minutes left in the half, Ealy danced the ball around a Ramapo defender and launched a cross that Scott Bechler headed home to knot the game at 1-1. “I knew that I had boys in the box that I can always look for,” recalled Ealy. “As long as I toss up an accurate ball, I know I will have someone on the post and they were there for me.” At the other end of the c r o s s , s e n i o r d e fe n d e r Bechler finally converted on a move he has been trying for a while. “All year I have been crashing back post hoping that one is going to slip through and finally it did,” said Bechler. The Little Tigers kept up the heat after the tally, generating several chances, including a rocket by Bechler that was just fisted over the crossbar by Ramapo goalie Will Shiel, as the game escalated into a pulsating handto-hand battle with the Raiders hanging on for dear life as PHS threw everything it could at them. The combatants ended up knotted at 1-1 after regulation play and 20 minutes of overtime with the teams being crowned as co-champions under NJSIAA rules. W hile Bechler and his teammates desperately wanted the title for themselves, they were proud of their achievement as they ended the season at 18-3-1. “No one likes to share;” Zach [Halliday] said before overtime, “I never liked sharing since I was a kid and I am not about to start sharing now,” said Bechler with a laugh. “Looking back on it, we are kind of sorry right now because we t hought we could have won it. I guess they could have won it too so sharing is alright.” Early on it looked like Ramapo was going to make it two straight titles as it took a 1-0 lead with 23:09 left

in the first half, displaying some imperious form in the process. Even though PHS trailed 1-0 at intermission, the team was confident it could pull out the title. “I think we were really confident coming off halftime,” said Ealy. “We have come back from being down before. We know if we get our heads in it, we can win every game. After working all season, we really weren’t going to let this game go.” Ealy provided some sparkling work once he was inserted into the contest. “I just knew I could really help the guys,” said Ealy. “I love to push the ball forward and that’s what we strive to do on attack. I came in and I just tried to morally pick everybody up as much as I could. They were already there, physically and mentally.” PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe thought his team gave its all, mentally and physically. “It was two good teams, I thought we really had the better in terms of possession, a higher percentage of possession, and certainly a lot more quality chances during the run of play,” said Sutcliffe, whose team outshot Ramapo 17-4 on the day. “Ramapo had one goal off of a restart, I think most of their top chances came from restarts. I just thought that our urgency and our experience and our quality just came through in the second half.” Sutcliffe lauded the special urgency that Ealy displayed as he made the most of his limited minutes. “He was in the hospital for three days and he found a way to recover,” said Sutc liffe. “He was with us at the state semifinal on Wednesday evening with none of us ever thinking he would be back on this season. He turned up at practice the other day and he felt pretty good. We inserted him into training yesterday, kept a close eye on him, and he was fantastic. So we felt if we can get him on for 10-to15 minutes, he could make a difference and he did. What a contribution with his com-

JOINT EFFORT: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Scott Bechler, right, celebrates with Chase Ealy, center, and Aidan Passannante after heading in the goal that gave PHS a 1-1 tie with Ramapo last Saturday in the Group III state championship game and a share of the title. Ealy’s brilliant pass from the corner set up Bechler’s tally. The Little Tigers ended the season at 18-3-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

mitment and his quality.” Senior defender Bechler displayed his special qualities all day long. “Throughout the 100 minutes, Scott didn’t make a mistake,” maintained Sutcliffe. “Certainly to tie the game with a header is fantastic. Just having the wherewithal to be on the other end of that delivery from Chase and he hit it with such authority. And then he could have won the game with that volley, credit to Ramapo’s keeper for just pulling one out of his pocket.” Although PHS didn’t win the game, Sutcliffe is happy to have a piece of the title in his pocket. “My brother’s team Moorestown High had a share in 2000 and in 1997 they won it; it was just a little different but it is still a state championship,” said Sutcliffe, whose team topped brother Mike Sutcliffe and his Moorestown side 2-0 in the Group III semis on Wednesday evening to punch its ticket to the title game. “It is still a state championship and I am so proud of our guys. It has been a really demanding season with the hurricane and the injuries and the postseason. The postseason tournament was very demanding on all of us. I am so proud of them. There are 12 seniors and they gave us everything they had.” Sutcliffe is not surprised that his players were able to meet those demands. “First of all, the whole team is basically full-time soccer players,” said Sutcliffe, who has been guiding the PHS program for 17 years. “It is in their blood, they love it. They are fortunate enough to grow up in a great soccer environment. They are so passionate about the Princeton shirt. These seniors when they were freshmen, they were here and we won it too. With that said, they tried to just make their mark. Beyond that, off the field, they are all very close. I think that goes a long way for them.” Bechler, who didn’t have a shirt for the title game in 2009 as a freshman, enjoyed making his way back to the championship summit. “I am playing with all of my best friends; I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out,” said Bechler. “I was on the team as a freshman. I was rostered but I didn’t have a jersey so I was over in the corner playing some juggling with the other kids who weren’t playing. I was wearing Princeton warm-ups. Ever since that year, I was thinking if I was a little bit better I could have had that ring. It has always been about getting one of my own and now I finally have the chance.” For Ealy, who moved to the area from South Carolina this summer, getting the chance to be part of the PHS team has been special. “I would tell you that it is the legacy; it is the history in the school and the soccer,” said Ealy, reflecting on the qualities that set the program apart. “You want to represent it and make every last wearer of the shirt proud.” And by overcoming illness to help PHS earn a title, Ealy certainly did his shirt proud. —Bill Alden

Passannante Provided Early Salvo in Group III Semis, Helping PHS Boys’ Soccer on Road to State Crown Aidan Passannante and his teammates were crushed when they walked off the field at Toms River North High last fall after losing to Timber Creek in the state Group III semifinals. When PHS returned to the same pitch last Wednesday night to face Moorestown in this year’s Group III semis, the Little Tigers were determined to leave Toms River with a win. PHS didn’t waste any time showing their intentions as Kevin Halliday scored 3:27 into the contest and senior midfielder Passannante followed suit 21 seconds later with a goal of his own. “It was huge; we started off that way in the Allentown game and it helped us get the result in that game,” said Passannante. “I think we got the goals early and we were keeping possession really well, moving off the ball.” Passannante acknowledged that classmate Colin Lamb played a huge role in his goal. “It was a great play by Colin, a great find by him,” recalled Passannante. “I was inside the six so I just poked it in.” PHS ended up topping Moorestown by that 2-0 margin, warming up the chilly night as they enjoyed a raucous post-game celebration. Passannante acknowledged that PHS’s quick start made the difference. “It was back and forth after we got the two quick goals,” said Passannante. “They had their fair share of possession throughout the game so I think it was huge.” The stingy Little Tiger defense, which kept its shape as Moorestown desperately tried to get on the board, was also a huge factor in the win.


“The organization in the back was great,” asserted Passannante. “Pablo [Arroyo] was doing a great job of organizing back there.” As a result, the PHS had a great feeling as they left Toms River and headed to the state final, the second trip to the final for Passannante, who helped PHS win the 2009 state title as a freshman. “It feels really good because it was pretty disappointing last year walking off this field,” said Passannante. “I know how they feel so it feels great to be back.” PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe credited Passannante with producing a great effort. “I thought Aidan had one of his best games ever tonight,” said Sutcliffe. “Aidan had a great game and if we are going to be successful in these games at this level, he has to have a game like he had tonight.” On Saturday, Passannante played well as PHS tied defending champion Ramapo 1-1 to end the

season as Group III cochampions. For Passannante, applying what he learned from his first title run helped PHS coming into last Saturday “We are doing it the same way we prepared in 2009,” said Passannante. “We are just bringing experience, knowing what it is like, warming up each time before a game, being in the locker room before the game, walking out onto the field, being in a pretty big crowd situation so I think that is what we bring.” Passannante and classmate Zach Halliday came full circle in their PHS soccer experience on Saturday as they bookended their careers with state titles. “We have been playing together probably since third of fourth grade,” said Passannante. “We have been playing together for a long time, great friends on and off the field. It is great that we are doing this together.” —Bill Alden

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Town Topics Newspaper  

Issue: December 5, 2012

Town Topics Newspaper  

Issue: December 5, 2012