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SOMERSET — Every championship-winning team needs leaders who not only flash talent but know how to make intelligent decisions when all the chips are on the table.
As Princeton Day School boys lacrosse chases its first-ever NJSIAA Non-Public B state title, it has become clear that Sebastian Rzeczycki plays at a different level than many others in New Jersey.
The junior midfielder stepped up in a huge way for third-seeded PDS on Tuesday in the semifinals held at second-seeded Rutgers Prep, matching his career high with six goals including the last three of the game to lift the Panthers to an 8-5 victory.
“Everyone has their games, and I think today I just had mine,” Rzeczycki said. “We have great players all around, and I think I couldn’t ask for a better offense to play around.”
PDS (15-6) executed a sound game plan going into the fourth quarter. The Panthers effectively picked their spots against Rutgers Prep’s (10-7) zone defense and controlled the tempo. But suddenly they faced a gut check when the Argonauts came storming back to tie the game with 4:44 remaining.
PDS coach Joe Moore called a timeout 33 seconds later, and then Rzeczycki put the Panthers back in control with an unassisted goal to make it 6-5 at the 3:40 mark.
“Coach always tells me, ‘Sometimes the plays will come to you,’” he said. “That one just came to me I guess. Going out of the huddle I knew that something had to happen, and it just came to me in the end.”
Rzeczycki also had an assist in the first quarter and has been one of the area’s top players with 108 points on the season.
He seemingly has a knack for spontaneously making a play for himself or a teammate when the pressure is on. Rzeczycki then finished an assist from Charlie Hogshire with 1:53 remaining, and one final goal with 49.8 left on the clock put the finishing touches on PDS’ upset.
“If someone is playing back side on my hip, I try to get top side. If someone is playing me a little higher, I try to go under,” Rzeczycki said. “I think a big part of lacrosse and what makes a great player is reading and reacting how defenses are playing you.”
For Moore, who is a former lacrosse player at Syracuse, what stands out most about his star junior is the vision and accuracy of his dodges.
“He’s really smart with the ball. I think that’s where he’s grown the most since last year,” Moore said. “His IQ is through the roof.”
Freshman Andrew Ahrens also scored two goals in the first half for PDS to help the Panthers build a 3-1 halftime lead. Senior Ace Ewanchyna had an assist and helped anchor the defense.
PDS’ defensive unit had big contributions from senior Milan Patel, whom Moore felt played his best game of the season, and senior Nick Cucchi. Freshman goalie Jake Harrison had 10 saves including a huge one in the second quarter that fueled a transition goal.
“I couldn’t ask for a goalie that Jake has become,” Rzeczycki said. “I think he’s come in, he’s stepped into these shoes, he’s made tremendous saves all season from the get-go.”
Moore said that PDS anticipated a slow, low-scoring game after advancing to this round with 39 goals total against Gloucester Catholic and Holy Spirit. The Panthers focused on valuing every possession and making smart decisions on offense, and they felt they could win most of their matchups defensively.
All of it came to fruition, and now PDS will play for its first state title Saturday at East Brunswick against either Gill St. Bernard’s or Immaculata.
This is exactly how the Panthers wanted to respond after winning the Prep B tournament and then suffering a heartbreaking loss to Allentown in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals last month.
“I think the MCTs, the way it ended for us, it really stunk in the moment but it was the best thing for us,” Moore said. “It really kind of put things in perspective for us in these tournaments. If you lose, you’re out. Especially when it’s the end of your season, I know how badly these guys want to keep playing and spending time with each other, so I think that shined through in the last quarter towards the end when they kind of turned it on and started playing with their heads. I think we’re exactly where we need to be going into a championship game. I’m excited to see how they play.”
Princeton Day (15-6) 2 1 2 3 – 8
Rutgers Prep (10-7) 1 0 1 3 – 5
Goals – Rzeczycki 6, Ahrens 2 (PD), Betsch 2, Beehler 2, Priesing (RP).
Assists – Rzeczycki, Hogshire, Ewanchyna (PD), Williams (RP).
Shots – 18 (PD), 25 (RP).
Saves – Harrison 10 (PD), Storipan 6 (RP).
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