Boys soccer: Hopewell Valley, Princeton prepare for state tournament in downpour

Soccer is a funny game sometimes. Wednesday night, if you showed up five minutes into

Soccer is a funny game sometimes.

Wednesday night, if you showed up five minutes into the Hopewell Valley-Princeton boys soccer game and were asked which team was the winner, you would almost certainly have said the visiting Tigers.

But despite a dominant performance by Princeton, it was the Bulldogs that came away with a 1-0 win, thanks to Christian Poehlein’s third-minute goal.

The game, which was played in a downpour for almost its entirety, was the last of the regular season for both teams. Both now have a bye in the first round of their respective NJSIAA sectional brackets (Princeton had one when the NJSIAA Central West B, Group 4 bracket was released, while Hopewell got one in Central West C, Groups 1, 2, and 3 when Ewing dropped out) and would have gone 10 days without a match heading into the sectional tournaments, so the two teams battled it out.

Princeton was without the Colonial Valley Conference’s third-leading scorer, Youri Laoui, who was not risked in the match due to a slight injury. With star forward Nick Petruso still working himself back into fitness, the Tigers struggled all night to finish their chances. The second half was an all-out onslaught, with almost the entirety of the 40 minutes played in the Hopewell half of the pitch, but Princeton could not find the tying goal, even as a last-minute penalty shout went unheard.

The best chance for Tigers came in the 77th minute, as a shot by Nicola Carusone from every bit of 35 yards was driven toward the top corner of the net. But Bulldogs’ keeper Austin Roell got his hand on the ball to tip it over the bar and help preserve the clean sheet for the hosts.

“It was a great shot and I just got my hand on it and punched it over the bar,” Roell, who made eight saves on the night, said. “I had to stay focused for the entire game. The key is to keep talking to your defense the whole game. Our defense played well tonight.”

High school boys soccer, Princeton at Hopewell Valley

Hopewell Valley’s goalie Austin Roell makes a save, during first half action. High school boys soccer, Princeton at Hopewell Valley, held at Hopewell Valley High School, in Pennington, November 11, 2020. Mary Iuvone | For NJ Advance Med

Petruso is going to have to be match fit and raring to go next Tuesday, as top-seeded Princeton (7-2-2) hosts the winner of the NJSIAA Central West B, Group 4 first round contest between ninth-seeded Ridge (2-6-2) and eighth-seeded Watchung Hills (4-6) this Saturday.

For him, this game was a great chance to get out on the turf and get some valuable match fitness, after he missed some time through injury in this shortened campaign.

“Being able to play this game today was definitely important,” Petruso said. “We have a few days off, so this game will help us as we prepare for the tournament. I think we definitely played well tonight. We had some good chances. Unfortunately, we were unable to put them away. We will just take this forward and learn from it.

“We have to work on our finishing. We had a lot of chances there, especially in the second half, and we just could not put them away. Today was definitely a bust, but we will learn from it, and go onto the tournament.”

Princeton coach Wayne Sutcliffe was happy with everything but the result at the end of the contest, as his team goes in search of another sectional title to add to the many other trophies collected by the Tigers over the years.

“Without a doubt, aside from the result of course,” Sutcliffe said. “But the performance was good. I think we were tops in every category: possession, shots, duels won, restarts, tackles. It is what it is. But we just told the kids if we play that well next week, we are going to be a tough team to beat.

“All positives from tonight. It was a meaningless game. There is no CVC title to play for this season, nobody won anything tonight in terms of the league. So this was a good chance to get out here and play a tuneup friendly for the sectional tournament.”

For the Bulldogs, their sectional path will in a possible semifinal go through nationally ranked and NJ.com No. 6 Bernards (11-0), which has outscored its opponents 55-3. Roell thinks his team heads into the bracket in good form and can make some noise.

“I think we played well tonight,” Roell said. “Just being out here really helped us to get where we want to go in the playoffs.”

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