EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Pete Lambert, head coach of the Egg Harbor Township boys soccer team, told his players Thursday afternoon they should treat every game from here on out as a playoff game. He wants the Eagles to get into the mindset that, come playoff time, if they don't bring their best effort their season will be over in the blink of an eye.
The Eagles took their coach up on that challenge, producing a solid effort in a 2-1 win over Millville at Silver Eagle Stadium. The victory pushed EHT's record to 9-4-2 overall and 7-2-2 in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference, just below St. Augustine Prep (9-1-3, 7-0-3). Millville slipped to 7-5-1 overall and 5-5-1 in conference play.
"Especially for me, as a senior, I want to put in everything I have every single game since it's my last time out here. I just want to try my best in every game, and I treat (every game) like a playoff game," said Jacob Evenson, who scored what turned out to be the game-winner in the 57th minute. "A lot of the time we like to get it wide, cross it in, make runs and try to sneak it in. On our wings we have a lot of speed and we try to use that to our advantage. We get a lot of guys coming off the bench, too, so we always have fresh legs."
"This being a conference game against Millville, they always play tough. We went there earlier in the year and I thought we played really well, we were up 2-0, then all of a sudden we were in double overtime and they sneak one in and we lose, 3-2. The boys didn't forget that, but regardless, we do have to treat every game going forward like it's our last," Lambert said. "When you're making a playoff run, it's either win or go home and that's the mentality we have, whether we are at home or on the road. We made reference to NHL hockey — teams that go far in the playoffs are the teams that get hot at the end of the year, so now is the time we need to start putting things together. We're getting healthy, so now is the time to get hot."
EHT got on the board in the first half when sophomore Ahmad Brock beat Millville keeper Nate Goranson to the spot on a ball through and flicked a shot into the lower left corner. Then, early in the second half, Evenson took a ball through and beat a Millville defender before getting one past Goranson in a one-on-one situation. Millville, however, got one back later in the second half when Matt Price scored from distance, and had a golden opportunity to tie the game with three minutes left. William Muhlbaier found himself one-on-one with Eagles keeper Tyler Weller, and Weller rushed off his line and made a fantastic kick save to knock the ball out of danger.
"I'm just thinking in my head that I have to make this save. I'm not worrying about what happens afterward — if I miss it, I'm looking for the team to fill in for that," Weller said. "As soon as he took that second touch in toward me, I knew that was my time. I knew that was my chance to at least close the distance on the goal and him."
"I didn't want to look. Tyler got big, he came off his line and got aggressive and that was huge, and props to him. We have three goalies on the roster and two don't play much, and to not play much and come up huge like that was phenomenal. He won't forget that, and we won't forget that. I think after that we realized we needed to dig in and get this win at home," Lambert said. "We mixed things up a little bit, putting Tyler Weller in goal today and he hasn't played a lot, but he came up huge. That's the type of player we have. Anybody can play at any time and that's how we approach every game. Millville is a great team and they play tough. We were lucky to lock things down at the end and keep it 2-1.
"Ahmad plays anywhere for us. He's got wheels, so it's nice when we can get him off the bench and running, and Jacob as well. Jacob's size is deceiving but he's probably one of the quickest kids in the Cape-Atlantic League. If we can free him up, which we try to do, he can be dangerous and we saw that today around the goal," Lambert added. "Late in the game, I thought he was going to sneak a third goal in. He's the type of player we don't necessarily have to play into space, he can create on his own, he's technical and he's good with the ball at his feet. We thought he was going to have one there at the end but the defender got to him, but he doesn't quit. He's a nice little player."
Egg Harbor Township has some very tough games coming up, including matchups against ACIT, Oakcrest and Ocean City.
"We have three more games and then hopefully we can make a playoff run, so things are looking good," Lambert said. "If you go by power points, we're sitting anywhere between a five, six or seven seed, which is where I envisioned us being. But we know how it is in South Jersey Group 4, those 10 or 11 seeds, or even a 15 or 16, can beat anyone on any given day. We'll just take it one game at a time. We'll get ready for ACIT next week on the road, and they are a good team that's playing well right now. Then we have Oakcrest here and they're a playoff-caliber team, then Ocean City at the end. So, we're going to treat every game as if it's a playoff game."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays