By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Last fall, Nate Biersbach decided to play in Major League Soccer “Next” — a youth soccer program sponsored by MLS designed to put high school players into high-level club soccer leagues throughout the year.

This year, Biersbach decided to come back to high school soccer to finish out his career with his friends.

The boys — and coaches — at Egg Harbor Township couldn’t be more thrilled he made that decision.

Biersbach proved why he’s one of the most lethal goal scorers in the state on Thursday afternoon, delivering a hat trick to help lead No. 4 Egg Harbor Township to a dominated 6-0 win over No. 13 Central Regional in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament. The visiting Golden Eagles didn’t stand a chance, as Biersbach and his scoring buddy, Gilmer Mendozo, accounted for four of the Eagles’ six goals.

Mendoza got the scoring going early in the 11th minute — before school had even let out, as the game began at 2 p.m. — taking a ball through, putting a nifty move on a defender and depositing a shot into the lower left corner to give EHT a 1-0 lead. Then, with a little more than 14 minutes left in the first half, Biersbach scored the first of his three goals, a wicked laser of a shot from about 25 yards out into the lower right corner. He got control of the ball on the left, put a quick move on a defender to give himself some space, then unloaded. The keeper had no chance.

“I was one-v.-one with the defender, cut in to my right and just shot it far post. I wasn’t too sure (it was going in), I just hit it. I’m glad it went in,” Biersbach said. “We knew as the fourth seed we had to put this game away early. We just had to get the result.”

EHT senior Gilmer Mendoza reacts after scoring the first goal during the Eagles’ state playoff win over Central Regional. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“He’s exciting. He’s fun to watch, he’s super coachable, he’s passionate about the game. He’s a workhorse. We had him as a freshman and sophomore, then he went MLS Next as a junior, but came back this year. He wanted to finish his high school career with his boys, and we welcomed him back with open arms,” said EHT coach Pete Lambert. “With a hat trick in the opening round (of playoffs) and 25 goals on the season, he can score left-footed, right-footed. He’s so technical on the ball. Nobody is saving that shot (on his first goal). He hits panels, he hits corners — he’s just fun to watch.”

Less than two minutes later, EHT (14-4-1) essentially put the game on ice as Mendoza took on a defender in the box, floated a pass over the goalkeeper’s head, and Biersbach was there to run on it, take a touch and tap the ball in.

Biersbach finished off his hat trick with a little less than 30 minutes to go, scoring off an assist from Joey Martin on a counter attack to push the lead to 4-0. A few minutes later it was 5-0 when John Molina took a beautiful cross from Mendoza and tapped it into an open net. The final tally came from Lucas Cross with 2:21 remaining.

“The mindset coming into this game — I just wanted to win, and, honestly, coming out strong and positive with a lot of confidence, but not nervous. It made me feel good to win. I knew we were going to win this game,” Mendoza said. “We wanted to get them out early, score the goals first. After the first goal, we built confidence, and that’s how we score goals.”

EHT seniors Nate Biersbach and Gilmer Mendoza talk about the Eagles’ 6-0 win to start the state playoffs.

“We approached it all week in training knowing that they are a solid team and are well coached. We saw them in the summer in a scrimmage, so we had an idea of what we were up against,” Lambert said. “We knew if we could set the tone early with energy and press a little higher we’d be dangerous. We put them in some tough spots early, and when we have guys like Gilly and Nate, and others who can finish, it’s going to make life difficult for the other team. To get three early, then three more in the second half and get out of here healthy — we’ll take it. We expected a challenge today, but at the same time we knew we had to prove that we belonged at No. 4 and deserved another home game.”

EHT advances to host No. 5 Kingsway, a 1-0 winner over No. 12 Millville, on Monday afternoon in the quarterfinals. A matchup against No. 1 Rancocas Valley could await the winner next Wednesday.  

“I think we just have to keep it positive and keep our confidence. It’s good to be nervous, we just have to have confidence,” Mendoza said. Added Biersbach, “it’s going to take precision. We know we’re playing well, we just have to keep our mindset strong and stay positive with each other.”

Keeper Brett Barnes finished with five saves to record the clean sheet for EHT. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“We know nothing is going to be handed to us. We have to go out there and work for everything,” Lambert said. “We talked about these seniors leaving a legacy, and it’s win-or-go-home, so that was a great attitude we had today. The seniors led us today, the captains led us. We’ll play Kingsway on Monday, and we’ll be ready.”

Lambert said several of this year’s seniors were freshmen four years ago when Toms River North, a No. 16 seed, came into Silver Eagle Stadium and upset No. 2 EHT to win the sectional championship. Last year, EHT lost in the quarterfinals to Toms River North and in 2020 the Eagles fell in the semis to Shawnee.

“A couple of these guys were freshmen when Toms River North came here and beat us in that South Jersey final. These guys are good kids, they are hard workers and they are dedicated. They’re not ready to go home. They are not ready to be done. They are passionate about this program and they are ready to make a run because they know how far we can go and how good we can be. Deep back in their minds they know what happened that day against North,” Lambert said of his team’s level of focus. “We know we can score, and score in bunches sometimes, and we know we have two dangerous weapons in Gilly and Nate up top with a nice supporting cast around them. It’s going to come down to discipline on defense, and we always have to be better in the midfield. With the way we like to play, if we lose the midfield we get stretched and we can get exploited. We know we can get Nate and Gilly touches on the ball, and we know they can be creative and dangerous — but moving forward, can we slow Kingsway down? They have some dangerous attackers as well.”

What’s next: No. 4 EHT hosts No. 5 Kingsway in the South Jersey Group 4 quarterfinals on Monday, time TBD. Central Regional’s season is complete.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays