EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Midfielder Henry Calix and the rest of the Egg Harbor Township High seniors will see their prep soccer careers come to an end this month. There’s no getting around that fact. The end is coming, and they can’t stop it.

They can, however, have a lot to say about how and where their collective soccer careers end. They were determined that the end wouldn’t come in the opening round of the state playoffs.

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The Eagles scored a pair of second-half goals and got a shutout from keeper Brett Barnes to take down Eastern Regional, 2-0, and advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament. EHT, the No. 4 seed, will host either No. 5 Toms River North or No. 12 GCIT in the next round. The Eagles lost to Toms River North two years ago in the sectional championship game.

“Before the game, in the huddle, I told the guys we’ve put our whole effort into this and a lot of hard work since the summer,” Calix said. “I told them, ‘listen, guys, I know we’re not done here today. We have a lot more to go. So whatever you do, make sure you leave it all on the field. I don’t want you to come out and say, ‘I should have done better.’ So, I just told them from the beginning to play like an animal.'”

EHT (13-6, 10-2 Cape-Atlantic American) played like it had the animal spirit of a honey badger, as the Eagles’ smaller midfield took a pounding from a bigger, more physical Eastern (11-9, 5-5 Olympic-American) team but kept finding ways to slice through the Vikings’ defense to create quality opportunities. None of those opportunities resulted in goals in the opening half, but the Eagles stayed patient and stuck to their brand of technical, possession-dominated soccer and saw results in the second half.

“We try to take everything so seriously. Coming into the playoffs, it’s win-or-go-home, so we went out there and implemented everything we’ve been doing in practice and stayed together. We got caught up a little bit, but that just happens in this game, and we were able to come back,” Calix said. “Our midfield is solid and we stay compact. To be honest, as long as you go right to the ball nobody can take it from you. As a team, we always try to play it wide. When I’m in the midfield I try to have the vision to make what play is there. If there is nothing out wide, we play it to the middle.”

EHT was unlucky through the first 50-plus minutes as an early shot by Gilmer Mendoza rang off the crossbar, and Mendoza was thwarted again by Eastern keeper Brayden Cooper in the 49th minute when Cooper made a diving save on Mendoza’s penalty kick to keep the game scoreless. But in the 57th minute the Eagles finally broke through. Ty Rosas launched a long throw-in from the right side and senior forward Jackson Griffith flicked it perfectly with his head toward the far post. The ball knocked off the inside of the post and tucked into the goal for a 1-0 EHT lead.

“I made direct contact with that, and I told Ty before the game, ‘look for me on that,'” Griffith said. “I just jumped and then I saw it (going for the post) and I said, ‘no way! not another one (to hit the post).’ But then I saw it go in and it was time to celebrate.”

The Eagles got some insurance with a little more than nine minutes remaining when Mendoza took a pass from midfielder Matthew Sanchez and tapped a shot over Cooper’s head for a 2-0 advantage.

“We’re a second-half team,” Griffith said. “We always come into the game with the mindset that we’re already down 1-0 and we have to come back. That’s the mindset we come into the game with so that we play hungry from the very beginning. We stay patient because we know (goals) are coming.”

The road to a sectional championship only gets tougher from here, however, as this section has some outstanding teams such as Washington Township, top-seeded Clearview and second-seeded Kingsway, which was in the Coaches Cup final on Saturday night. Nearly all of the top eight seeds remain.

“We need everybody on board. If one person is not on board that shifts the weight of the whole team,” Griffith said. “It’s all about dedication. I’m happy to wake up and go to practice every day. This is my family and I need to show up for them. We need to show up for each other because this is a brotherhood.”

What’s next: EHT hosts either Toms River North or GCIT on Thursday in the SJG4 quarterfinals, time TBD. Eastern’s season is complete.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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