By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Visiting Williamstown scored the equalizer against Egg Harbor Township with less than 11 minutes left in regulation on Monday afternoon in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs, then turned things over to junior keeper Gab Krouse.
Krouse came up with two big saves in the penalty kick shootout after the teams were tied, 1-1, through 100 minutes of soccer. The 10th-seeded Braves outlasted No. 7 EHT, 3-2, in the PK shootout to survive and advance. The Braves will take on No. 2 Kingsway, which thumped Southern Regional, 6-2, in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
“It’s crazy, but I’m just happy to do it for my seniors. I usually just guess and hope for the best,” Krouse said of her strategy heading into the shootout.
“I’m a goalkeeper myself and we’ve been working on that for a couple of weeks,” said Williamstown coach Dan Torcasio. “I just told her to trust her instincts, gave her a couple of clues to look at. She’s one of the best goalkeepers in South Jersey, so we know if it gets to that point, we have a chance.”
Eagles coach Christian Wiech said he was disappointed with the loss, but not his team’s effort.
“Somebody has to advance. I thought both teams played physical and played hard. Neither team deserved to go down that way, but you have to have a winner,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s the way the game is designed.”
Egg Harbor Township (12-4-2) had a strong wind at its back in the first half, and after thwarting some early pressure from the Braves (12-6-2), the Eagles capitalized in their offensive third with 13 minutes left before halftime. Sophomore Lauren Ebner got to the spot on a ball into the box and poked a shot past Krouse to give EHT a 1-0 lead. But Williamstown answered with 10:34 remaining in regulation on a beautiful shot by Natalie Pantalone. EHT tried to clear a ball into the box, but Pantalone gathered the loose ball, set herself and launched a shot into the top-right corner from about 20 yards out.
“I knew we were going to score because I believe in my team. I try to give them as much confidence as I can. They came through and I’m very happy about that,” Krouse said. “The wind was bad. The sun wasn’t too bad, if you squinted your eyes really tight. You just have to deal with it.”
“Our whole season has been preaching to the kids to shoot, and finally we were able to get a couple of shots on goal and Nat hit a great shot to tie it up. Once the pressure was off to score that tying goal, I thought we settled down and played a really good game,” Torcasio said. “We kept on trying to pressure. We knew their center back, (Siani) Magruder, is really good so we knew we had to go outside-in. It could have gone either way when they scored their goal, but we kind of settled down and played our game.”
“When you are playing playoff ball in any sport, the colder it gets the wackier things can be. I thought our girls did take a little while to adjust, but they did, and I think Williamstown did a nice job of adjusting,” Wiech said. “I think in the second half you saw a little bit more of a soccer game. I was proud of our kids. I thought we did a good job adjusting (to the wind).”
After scoring the tying goal, Williamstown kept up the pressure, but EHT got solid performances from Magruder in the back, as well as goalie Courtney Flaherty.
“Courtney, she has been a three-year starter for us and in every big game she shows up for us. It never ceases to amaze me how well she can play. I’m proud of her and she deserves any accolades she can get,” Wiech said. “(Magruder) was not feeling particularly well today, so her performance — to come out the way she was feeling today — just goes to show how dominant a player she is.”
In the PK shootout, each team misfired on one of its first two shots, but EHT — which led off — took a 2-1 lead when senior captain Stefania Piantadosi buried a shot into the upper right. The Braves answered right back with a goal from Morgan Ostermueller. Krouse then came up with a big save, and MacKenzie Myers put her shot into the lower right corner, giving the Braves a 3-2 lead and putting the pressure on EHT to make its final kick to potentially force a second round of PKs. But Krouse slammed the door with a nice save, diving to her left to seal the win.
“We have 11 seniors in our program, but what is great about Egg Harbor Township is there are always younger kids who are ready to step into a leadership role,” Wiech said. “Siani and Stef and the rest of them were part of that crew a few years ago, and look how they have blossomed. I know there is going to be a group right behind them that will shine in the years to come.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays