HADDON TOWNSHIP – After the first couple of weeks of the season, very few would have thought the Haddon Heights boys soccer team would eventually become a force in the South Jersey Group 1 tournament.
Though a traditional threat in the group, the Garnets got off to a 1-6-2 start and seemed to be heading directly on the road to nowhere.
But since then a lot has changed. The Garnets gradually began to pull things together and have turned their season around with an 8-1-2 run.
On Friday, they advanced to the sectional semifinal with a 1-0 win over Colonial Conference rival and defending sectional champion Haddon Township.
“We started with just three seniors and it took some time for us to jell” said Haddon Heights coach Jeff Eppright. “To come from where we started until now . . . credit to these guys. They took a big step up. They could have just bagged it but they didn’t do it.”
The No. 5 seed Garnets will take on No. 1 seed Glassboro Tuesday in the South Jersey Group 1 semifinal game.
Even though the Bulldogs will be the favorite to advance it might be a mistake to write off Haddon Heights too early.
Eppright now believes his team is ready to take on any challenge.
“We’re taking every game now as if it was a championship game,” he said. “We’re taking one game at a time, but this was the biggest game of the season for us right now.”
The Garnets used a tried and true formula to get past Township.
They scored early with Danny Snyder connecting fewer then five minutes into the game on an assist from John Taylor, and then turned the game over to the defense.
Haddon Heights goalie Connor Rink faced a barrage of pressure in the second half, but would not yield the tying goal.
“I just tried to keep my head in the game, and keep my focus,” Rink said. “It seemed like the second half of the game was mostly in our half, but we just had to keep clearing the ball.”
According to Eppright, it was no surprise to see Rink step to the forefront in such a big game.
“He’s had a phenomenal year,” the coach said. “He gets better every day. He’s stepping up every day. The more games he gets the better he gets and the more confidence he has.”
Add to that the fact that the Haddon Heights defense did a good job of limiting Haddon Township to not many good scoring threats.
The Hawks had a lot of opportunities in the Heights zone, but weren’t able to turn them into many good shots on goal.
“I think we held onto the ball too much,” said Haddon Township coach Jim Bonder. “I think if we had moved the ball a little better we would have been able to get some more scoring opportunities.”
The Heights defenders, Taylor, the sweeper, Snyder, the stopper, along with backs Joe Quigley and Frank Hammill, consistently found ways to clear balls from out of danger.
Haddon Township had a couple of good chances in one sequence on a corner kick, but Rink made a good save on one attempt and a rebound shot sailed over the goal.
In addition, Township had a chance to take an early lead but hit the goal post, only to see Haddon Heights come back moments later to actually put one in to the goal.
The tally came off the foot of Snyder after he scooped up a rebound right in front of the net and slipped a goal by Bret Hintz.
“I saw the ball and I knew it was going to come off the keeper, so I wanted to make sure I was right there,” Snyder said. “It bounced to my right foot, even though I’m left footed, but I was able to put it away. It was a nice play by John Taylor, winning a 50-50 ball and put it on net.”
Having Heights score so early changed the texture of the game. It left Township hunting for a goal that would not come, and allowed Heights to play in a defensive shell.
“It was huge for us,” Snyder said. “Our coach told us we’ve only given up four goals in the second half of games. So once we got that early one we knew our defense could hold it down for the rest of the game.”
S.J. Group 1 Tournament
Haddon Heights 1 0-1
Haddon Township 0 0-0
Goal: Chris Snyder, Goalies: Conner Rink, HH (6 saves), Brett Hintz, HT (3 saves)