EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Egg Harbor Township High School boys soccer team’s exciting run through the South Jersey Group IV playoffs ended with a thrilling championship game Friday, but the Eagles fell just short.
Toms River North, the Cinderella 16th seed, beat Egg Harbor Township 2-1 in the first overtime in the sectional final. Parker Nickelsen scored the winning goal with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first 10-minute overtime.
EHT, the second seed in the bracket and ranked sixth in The Press Elite 11, ended its season 18-6. Toms River North, ranked No. 9 in the Elite 11, improved to 11-6-1.
It was EHT’s first S.J. championship game since 1996. The Eagles have never won a S.J. title.
“It was a tough one,” coach Pete Lambert said. “It hurts, and it hurts the other coaches. To get this far was an accomplishment. It’s no easy task to beat teams from the Olympic Conference (Lenape, Shawnee and defending state champion Washington Township) to get here.
“We were battle-tested, but today things didn’t bounce our way. As a player in high school and college, to be on the other end of a game like this, I really feel for my players because I love them like they’re my own children.”
Toms River North, which won its first sectional title since 2009, will play Central Jersey champion Hunterdon Central on Wednesday in a Group IV state semifinal. Hunterdon Central beat Long Branch 2-0 for the Central Jersey Group IV title Friday.
“I’m very happy. I’m very proud of the boys,” Toms River North coach Joe Mahon said. “It’s them, it’s all them. They totally believed, and they totally committed.”
EHT senior midfielder Kevin Aguiriano put the Eagles up 1-0 with a shot at the goal mouth in the 12th minute. The play started with a free kick from the left side by Niko Rubio, who sent it in front to striker Ahmad Brock.
Brock sent a quick pass to Aguiriano.
“Nico passed a good ball to Ahmad Brock, and they left me wide open with no one near me. I told Ahmad to flick it to me, and I finished it,” Aguiriano said.
EHT had more chances in the first half, but Toms River North got the edge in the second 40 minutes.
But EHT goalie Jeffrey Castro gave his team a big lift by stopping not one but two consecutive penalty kicks (the first one wound up not counting). The roaring EHT crowd went wild in the third minute of the second half as Castro dove to his left and made a save on Mariner Logan Mack’s penalty kick.
But the officials ruled that Castro moved early, and Mack was given a second PK. Mack went for the same spot, and Castro made the save again, getting an even louder roar from the crowd.
“Jeff Castro performed so well, especially in the Washington Township game (a 1-0 win) to bring us here,” Aguiriano said. “The other players and especially the coaches, we worked so hard and got to the finals.”
The Mariners didn’t fold. They tied the game at 1-1 as Mack scored near the net in the 49th minute after a pass from the right side by Nico Gonzales.
Toms River North goalie Dawson Kaniuk (six saves) and Castro (three saves) each made good stops early in overtime. Kaniuk’s save then went off the crossbar, and Castro’s came moments before the winning goal.
Nickelsen took a lead pass and scored the game winner from 15 yards out on the right side, firing the ball into the left corner.