South Jersey Sports Report: EHT Boys’ Soccer Earns Berth in Sectional Final
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A huge contingent of “The Flock” — Egg Harbor Township High School’s student cheering section — counted off the final five seconds of the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals in unison, then ran down to the fence surrounding Silver Eagle Stadium to celebrate with the EHT boys soccer team, which beat Washington Township 1-0 on Tuesday afternoon to clinch the Eagles’ first berth in the sectional championship game since 1996.
“The final five seconds, hearing The Flock counting it down, that just makes it even more special. Once those last five seconds were gone and they were done counting, that just made for a special moment,” said senior E.J. Martin. “This is the biggest thing in my high school career, honestly. We’ve worked so hard over the summer, throughout the season, and just leading up to this game. We were all excited, and to knock off the five-time defending champion makes it that much sweeter, and now we’re home for the final. I could tell we were going to be good from preseason — we have everything we need, guys coming off the bench, our starters, we all had the same desire.”
The Eagles (17-5) lost a heartbreaker against Washington Township (13-7-2) in late October, giving up a goal in the final 10 seconds in a 2-1 loss in the South Jersey Coaches Association Tournament. Getting payback against the Minutemen was sweet enough, but knocking off the five-time defending sectional championship and getting an opportunity to win a title at home on Friday was the icing on the cake. The Eagles will take on either No. 16 Toms River North or fourth-seeded Jackson Memorial in the title game.
Three other Cape-Atlantic League teams are still alive: Top-seeded St. Augustine Prep knocked off Paul VI, 3-1, in Non-Public A South and will take on No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy, a 2-1 winner over Notre Dame, in the championship; in South Jersey Group 3, ninth-seeded Ocean City continued its impressive run with a 5-1 win over No. 5 Toms River South and will travel to No. 2 Triton — a 1-0 winner over Mainland — in Friday’s final; in South Jersey Group 2, second-seeded Oakcrest took down Manasquan, 2-0, and will travel to top-seeded Delran, a 3-2 winner over No. 4 Cinnaminson, on Friday afternoon.
The only tally of the game came in the 23rd minute when EHT striker Ahmad Brock ran onto a corner kick from Niko Rubio and headed it in. From there, the Eagles relied on a determined defensive effort to keep one of the most creative offenses in South Jersey off the board.
“It’s a great feeling. Every day we wake up and have energy, we’re ready to play anybody, anywhere, anytime. We were ready to day. We came out hot early and put one in. Nico hit a beautiful ball in, they didn’t mark me up so I figured I’d have a free run down the center and it fell perfectly onto my head and into the bottom right corner. If it’s a ball coming in between the six (yard-line) and the PK line, my first thought is usually to put it on goal, but if it’s going out wide my thought is to put it back in (to the box) to see if we can get a ricochet or a lucky bounce in,” explained Brock, one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the state. “The biggest thing we did was we played like we wanted it more. The last time we played them I felt like they were all over us but in this game we really dug in and were working hard to win every 50-50 ball that came onto our side of the field. We said that if we want to win we’d have to play with heart and win balls in the middle of the field.”
“You’re lucky when you have a kid like Ahmad up top,” said senior midfielder Burak Cimen. “You boot the ball 50 yards and you’re like, ‘come on, Ahmad, chase it down.’ And he’s there. He’s all over the place. He helped us with this result tremendously.”
“It’s exciting. A lot of these seniors, we went to Township their freshman year in the third round and lost that game. So to get this one back — they remember that. The amount we matured throughout this year, they bought in that we’re not going to quit no matter who we are playing or where we’re playing. We’re going to give it our all, and over time these guys have bought into that. We don’t quit. Losing against Township (in the Coaches Cup final) hurt, but we learned from it. These boys are tough, they’re gritty, they’re technical, they’re smart — it was fun for these boys to get this win, and hopefully we can keep this train going. All we’ve been talking about is enjoying the ride and we don’t want it to end. This is our family, protect our house, protect our family, and who knows how far we can go?” said EHT coach Pete Lambert, who is headed to the sectional final for the first time in his 12-year coaching career. “It’s been 23 years since we’ve gotten this far, so we’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to go have some fun in the locker room. It’s a testament to these guys, they are good, hard-working kids who are buying into what we’re teaching them and we’re learning along the way. Township is a great team, and to play them twice in two weeks and get the result here, when it counts — the Coaches Tournament hurt, but we talked about how we wanted things to be at the end of our season.”
Senior captain Cole Gordon, a midfielder, said it took everything the Eagles had defensively to keep the clean sheet against the Minutemen.
“They are a great team. The last time they came here they beat us with a goal in the last 10 seconds, so we had a chip on our shoulder and got the job done today,” he said. “It was a struggle, man. I almost had a heart attack.”
Senior keeper Jeffrey Castro, who splits time with Tyler Weller, another senior goalie, played a big role in the shutout as well, coming up with a couple of saves in key moments.
“In the 23 games we’ve had this year they’ve played equal time. We have two very good keepers here, so making that change didn’t hurt us in any way,” Lambert said. “They support each other. They are both great kids who want the call to start. We told Jeffrey a couple days ago and Tyler was supportive, as he has been, and vice versa. Jeffrey has been supportive of him all year. They support each other and at the end of the day they are the first ones to hug each other. It’s exciting to have two good keepers.”
“Jeff and Tyler are both great keepers who work hard at their craft in practice every day. When Jeff gets his moment he’s always ready, and he was ready today,” Brock added.
The Eagles spent several minutes celebrating on the field after the victory, then kept the party going in the fieldhouse locker room.
“It’s a great feeling,” Brock said. “We’ve worked hard to get to this moment and we’re getting what we deserve. We’ve worked hard all season with blood, sweat and tears.”
Added Cimon, “on nj.com all the bets were against us, so we went in as the underdog and came out with the result. We knew we were going to get it from the start. They are a good team but we’re a good team as well, and we just wanted it more.”
Lambert is now sporting a mustache (he shaved it down from a beard following the loss to Washington Township in the Coaches Tournament) and said the lucky facial hair will live on, much to the chagrin of his wife.
“My wife’s not a big fan, but it’s all about the mustache. It’s not going away anytime soon,” he said with a chuckle. “When we played Township in the Coaches Tournament I had a beard going and I trimmed it (after the loss). The ‘stache is going to live on to Friday and hopefully even longer.”
What’s next: Washington Township’s season is complete. EHT hosts either No. 16 Toms River North or No. 4 Jackson in Friday’s championship game, time TBA.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays