By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — Both the Hammonton and Egg Harbor Township girls soccer programs came into the 2021 season devoid of varsity experience and searching for an identity. Both teams graduated nine of their 11 starters from 2020, so it was no surprise that the Blue Devils and Eagles played to a 1-1 tie earlier this month.
They met again on Wednesday at Hammonton’s pitch, and the Blue Devils may just have found their 2021 identity — that of a team that no matter what might be going against them, they’ll find a way to keep fighting and won’t give up on each other, or head coach Ashley Koester.
The Blue Devils came into the contest with just two wins — having lost close games against Vineland and Delsea while settling for a tie two other times — but that didn’t damper the Devils’ spirits. Nor did facing a 3-1 halftime deficit. Hammonton made up the difference, then got the game-winner from Reagan Mull in the 73rd minute, rallying for an improbable 4-3 win over EHT that put the squad at 3-5-2 on the season.
“This was a huge confidence booster for us going forward,” said Koester, who guided the Blue Devils to a 5-5 mark during last fall’s Covid-shortened season. “We were dragging a little bit, especially last week when we had a couple of tough ties and losses. To catch this win this late in the season will definitely give us a boost.”
“I think we came back really well. We were down but we brought the momentum up,” said Hammonton senior sweeper and captain Sydney Sorrentino. “Everyone is so excited about this win. We talked (at halftime) about how we had to improve on a couple of things; we had to switch the field and we really did that in the second half. We really stepped it up.”
Egg Harbor Township (5-4-2, 3-3-2 Cape-Atlantic League American Conference) wasted no time getting on the board as the Eagles cashed in on a corner kick during the fourth minute. Alicia Page’s corner went long but was tapped back into the box, where the ball found the foot of sophomore Gabriella Piantadosi. Hammonton, however, got the equalizer in the 21st minute from Juliana Dogostino and seemed to be right back in the game before EHT racked up two more goals before the break.
With a little less than 14 minutes to go before halftime, Piantadosi took a pass on the right and lofted a shot into the far left corner of the net — a nearly impossible angle. EHT then took a 3-1 lead with five mintues left before halftime when Page ran under a goal kick from her keeper, Katrina Suarez, and had a free run toward goal. Hammonton keeper Emma Peretti came well off her line and made the initial save about 30 yards from the goal, but Page was able to corral the rebound and boot the ball into the open net.
Everything changed in the second half, however, as Koester decided to push attackers forward in an all-out effort to tie the game. The move was risky as she left her defense susceptible, but Sorrentino locked things down in the back to allow the Blue Devils (3-5-2, 3-3-2 CAL American) to surge forward.
“Our halftime speeches by coach Koester are some of the best, she really pumps us up every halftime,” Sorrentino said. “Then we go off and talk amongst ourselves, and that really helped us today. We had a lot of momentum in the second half and were able to come back.”
“We changed our formation up a little bit. We decided we were going to attack them because what’s the difference if we lose 3-1 or 5-1?” Koester said. “So we changed that up and I told them it was their decision — being down 3-1 didn’t look great for us, but we could catch them if we played soccer against this team and play our game. They decided to believe me, and they went after it.”
Early in the second half, Hammonton sliced the deficit to 3-2 when Sorrentino ripped a direct kick from about 25 yards into the left side of the goal. Then, the equalizer came with 28 minutes to play on an own goal from EHT off a Hammonton corner kick. The eventual game-winner came off the boot of Mull in the 73rd minute, as Sophia Booker played a ball through and Mull converted for a 4-3 Hammonton lead.
The win was big for the Blue Devils, who travel to ACIT on Thursday before a couple big games next week, against Mainland and currently undefeated Middle Township.
“I think this win is going to definitely help with our mindset, and going forward I really think this will help bring back our confidence,” Sorrentino said.
Added Koester, “We’ve been resilient the whole year. If you look at our record, we’re in every single game but we just could never finish it out. But I give these kids a lot of credit. They are a young team — we graduated nine seniors last year and all of them started — so most of this team is brand new, and to have a young team that is willing to still play for you when they are down 3-1 at halftime is unreal.”
What’s next: Hammonton travels to ACIT on Thursday at 4 p.m. EHT hosts Absegami on Oct. 18 at 3:45 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays