Goalie Eberhart Showing Focus Down the Stretch As PHS Girls’ Soccer Girds for State Tournament
SHOWING HEART: Princeton High girls’ soccer goalie Rachel Eberhart goes after the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior Eberhart made six saves to help sixth-seeded PHS edge No. 11 WW/P-N 1-0 in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament. Two days later, Eberhart made seven saves but it wasn’t enough as the Little Tigers fell 2-1 to third-seeded Allentown in the MCT quarterfinals. PHS, now 9-4-1, will start play in the state tournament next week. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Rachel Eberhart sensed that it was going to be a pressure cooker when the Princeton High girls’ soccer team hosted WW/P-N last Wednesday in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament.
With the rivals having played to a scoreless draw through two overtimes on October 8 in a regular season meeting, sixth-seeded PHS expected a tough battle from the 11th-seeded Northern Knights.
“We remembered the last game, we knew it was going to be a tough one,” said Eberhart.
“We knew they were going to put the pressure on us. We had to keep the ball on our feet and play our possession game and not get frantic and let them disrupt it and push us into doing long balls because that is not our game.”
In the rematch, the teams were still scoreless nearly 70 minutes into the contest and Eberhart had several big stops.
“I would say the game was very even and I definitely had a couple of shots to handle,” said Eberhart. “We had a couple of shots. It was a back and forth game.”
The PHS defense helped keep the game even as it held the fort in front of Eberhart.
“They were doing a good job,” said Eberhart of the Little Tiger defensive unit. “North was putting a lot of pressure on us so I think we handled it pretty well. We played safe when we needed to play safe and we built out of the back when we could.”
The Little Tigers broke through as senior Hanna Rush banged home a rebound of a shot by Sasha Ryder to make it 1-0 with 11:07 remaining in the second half.
“I think personally we are a second half team,” said Eberhart. “We build momentum as we go. The more we play, the more we pick up and the more we get our heads into it.”
Eberhart made the lead stand up, earning a shutout as PHS prevailed 1-0.
“A lot of it for me is confidence because being a goalkeeper is a huge mind game,” said Eberhart, who had six saves in the win over WW/P-N.
“A lot of it is coming off your line and knowing when to be aggressive and when to hold your position. I think I have really come a long way in being able to go out and challenge and come off my line.”
PHS head coach Val Rodriguez knew her team faced a challenge in the matchup against WW/P-N.
“It seemed like déjà vu from the last game, we played them to double overtime,” said Rodriguez.
“They have a good team and they take us off of our game so yes I was getting nervous that we were going to be looking at overtime.”
Rodriguez wasn’t surprised that Rush came on to get the winning goal.
“Hanna is focused; she knows what she is going to do when she gets into the game,” said Rodriguez, who inserted Rush into the contest moments before the decisive tally.
“We needed to shoot and Sasha got the shot off. We followed which is what we practice all the time. We were really lacking shots. I think we were dangerous, we created some opportunities and we got center frame and no shot went off.”
In Rodriguez’s view, Eberhart has been showing good focus down the stretch of the season.
“The last couple of games, Rachel has been really, really good,” said Rodriguez of Eberhart, who had seven saves in a losing cause on Friday as the Little Tigers fell 2-1 to third-seeded Allentown in the MCT quarterfinals.
“In the Hightstown game on Monday, she made a great save. Today she had a couple big saves on free kicks. She is just coming off the line a little bit more than she normally does so she is running right into the postseason mode. She is where she needs to be at the moment.
While PHS’s MCT run ended with the tough loss to Allentown, it still can enjoy a big postseason as it starts play in the state tournament next week.
“They need to realize that when they play consistently and they play together, they are a good team,” said Rodriguez.
“We really could compete but there are games where we don’t play together and don’t play as a unit. I am hoping that senior mindset is going to carry us through. They have got to be hungry. This is it, one and done time.”
In Eberhart’s view, the team is hungry to play its best soccer. “I think we are building momentum, I think it is because of our game mentality,” said Eberhart.
“We need to just have the composure to keep it on our feet and keep the passing going.”