By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
SEWELL — A nightmare scenario for a NASCAR driver is running out of gas with one lap to go.
On Monday, the Egg Harbor Township boys soccer team was 80 minutes away from an appearance in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game. But while Washington Township was pushing the pedal to the metal, the Eagles were running on fumes.
The host Minutemen, the tournament’s No. 5 seed, blitzed the eight-seeded Eagles with three second-half goals — including two from Arturo Serano, who finished with a hat trick — to win 4-0 and advance to the title game, where they will meet No. 3 Rancocas Valley, which got past second-seeded Williamstown on penalty kicks in the other semifinal.
“All I knew (about EHT) was that they made it here, so they must be good. We just wanted to come out and play as hard as we could,” Serano said. “(EHT) was good in the midfield. The last 10 minutes of the first half, we didn’t do that well, so we wanted to come out strong in the second half and just settle the game down.”
Washington Township applied heavy pressure throughout most of the first half and finally broke through in the 22nd minute when Serano had a wide-open shot after a defensive breakdown in the box by EHT. Serano didn’t miss, drilling a shot into the upper right-hand corner to give Township a 1-0 lead. The Minutemen pushed the lead to 2-0 with 31 minutes left, just a minute after goalie Hunter Barbieri made a great save on a shot in close.
Clayton Crosse drilled a shot into the upper part of the net from about 25 yards out to make it 2-0, making an EHT comeback look pretty bleak.
“(Crosse) is a speedy guy, he’s a track guy, so we didn’t want to get hurt by him. He played really well today. He turned us inside out a few times and had a nice goal,” said Eagles coach Pete Lambert. “We were a little flat in the back. Usually we are a little more dominant but we looked a little sluggish back there today. But they are a heck of a team. They’ve made it to the South Jersey final three years in a row. We told the boys that moving forward, in order to be the best, we have to beat the best.”
Washington Township can score in bunches, which was evident in a recent Soccer Coaches Association tournament loss to Mainland Regional. The Minutemen trailed 4-0 at halftime, but put up four goals in a span of about 20 minutes in the second half before eventually losing, 5-4, to the Mustangs. The sting of that loss has spurred the Minutemen on through the state playoffs, as they have outscored opponents 6-0 in their three postseason wins.
“We just wanted to bounce back. We were down 4-0 to Mainland and lost, 5-4, but we had good energy coming back (into the playoffs),” Serano said. “We felt like we could make to the final, and we did.”
“Mainland is a tough team, and for Mainland to go up 4-nil and for them to battle back to make it 5-4, we knew we had to bring some energy today if we wanted to have a chance,” Lambert said. “They were just a little bit quicker, a little bit faster and a little bit better today.”
Serano finished off the scoring with a pair of goals, the first coming off a rebound on a free kick by John Dalesando and the last when he made a run down the left side and beat Barbieri in a one-on-one situation.
Egg Harbor Township was on a similar playoff run, having beaten ninth-seeded Eastern Regional on penalty kicks in the opening round before going on the road to knock off No. 1 Clearview, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.
“It’s a shame to end it this way, but, at the same time we did some great things this year. To go to Clearview and beat the No. 1 seed to get to the third round, something we haven’t done as a group, that’s encouraging. But, hat’s off to them, they are a heck of a team. It’s going to be a great final. I’d be excited to watch that game,” Lambert said. “I don’t know if we just ran out of gas (after the Clearview game) or if injuries were catching up to us. It just wasn’t our day. But against a good team like that, we can’t give up mistakes. They capitalized, and before you knew it the wheels fell off. It was 1-nil, then 2-nil, then 4-nil. They had passion and energy today, and we couldn’t match it. They are a very good team, well-coached and disciplined. They beat us today, and we wish them luck going forward.”
After the loss, Lambert reflected on a group of seniors who made four straight state playoff appearances and won three postseason games the past two years.
“We thanked our seniors. We have 14 of them this year. It’s a heck of a run they had and a heck of a legacy they are leaving behind. We won a lot of games together, some big ones, some tough ones, and, moving forward, we wish them the best,” Lambert said. “They were good role models for our younger guys to look up to and learn from. For the guys returning, we told them that our season essentially starts tomorrow and to remember how this feels. Hopefully we can get back at it next year and have a better result.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN