PITMAN – Mark Bridges, the Glassboro High School boys soccer coach, has come to expect a lot from junior stopper Aaron Harrison.
“He’s awesome,” Bridges said. “He’s been one of our best players, if not our best player, all year. He controls everything out there and today he probably had one of his best games of the season.”
Harrison scored the game’s lone goal on a head ball from 12 yards in front of the net and it carried the Bulldawgs to a 1-0 win over Haddon Township in a South Jersey Group 1 semifinal played at Total Turf.
The goal gave the No. 2 Bulldogs a chance to defend their South Jersey championship in a title game against No. 1 Palmyra on Thursday.
Despite playing a defensive position for the most part, Harrison spoke about the offensive role he plays for the Bulldogs in certain situations.
“Every free kick, every throw-in that we have, I go in the box because I’m one of the people who can head the ball,” Harrison said. “I knew I wasn’t marked, and I saw the open net so I just tried to put it in the corner.”
Santino Mancini set up the goal when he put a short throw in on the foot of Justin Bilinski, who then nudged the ball back to Mancini.
Seeing Harrison open in the middle of the field, Mancini played a high pass just where Harrison could do something with it.
The play seemed to be executed with such precision that it easy to presume it was a setup that the Bulldogs have worked on often in practice. But Harrison said no.
“We just winged it,” Mancini said. “It worked.”
However, Bridges was quick to point out the execution of the play was more than just luck.
“We work on restarts in every practice,” the coach said. “Restarts are big key to our success, so they knew where they were supposed to be. They weren’t in those positions by accident.”
Like his coach, Mancini was not surprised that Harrison knew what to do with the setup.
“Aaron has been our backbone all year,” he said. “He found a way to win this one.”
The timing of the goal couldn’t have been better for the Bulldogs. Both teams waged a taut defensive battle through most of the game before Harrison connected with a little more than 14 minutes to play.
That set the Hawks scrambling for an equalizer, but they didn’t find a way to work it out.
“We did a lot of little things wrong,” said Haddon Township coach Jim Bonder. “I told them after the game we’ve had a lot of success because we’ve done the little things right, and we just didn’t do it today. We didn’t seem to have a sense of urgency.”
Ironically, Harrison had a chance to ice the game with a shot from a similar place moments after his goal, but this time his kicked ball hit off the post.
On the other side, Glassboro did a good job of limiting Haddon Township’s opportunities as junior Griffin Rogers recorded the shutout.
For his part, Harrison said he knew this was a game where the defense would have to stand out.
“We look at defense always first,” he said. “We knew this was a game where there weren’t going to be many chances. We knew we had to take advantage of the few chances we had.”
The result was that Glassboro was able to continue on its season long quest to return to the state championship game.
Last fall, the Bulldogs had two leads in the title game, but ended up losing in overtime.
“We just couldn’t get it done,” Bridges said. “We were disappointed but we knew we had the team coming back that can do that job.”
S.J. Group 1 Semifinal
Haddon Twp. 0 0-0
Scoring: Aaron Harrison. Goalies: Griffin Rogers, G, 5 saves, Brett Hintz, HT, 5 saves.