Perry Hall freshman Zach Eichelberger had a goal and an assist to spark the Gators to a 2-1 victory over host Catonsville in Friday night boys soccer action.The win improved the Gators to 2-3.
It was only the second game of the season for the Comets, who lost to Dulaney on Sept. 12 in their opener by the same 2-1 score.
“The early-season losses are definitely tough and that’s when you take into account the weirdness of the schedule and the pre-season,” Catonsville coach Brendan Kennedy said. “It’s not an excuse at all, but it’s just an added element of adversity.”
Perry Hall provided even more adversity in the first half, starting with a pair of underclassmen in Eichelberger and sophomore Inderpreet Dheria, who connected for the first goal when Dheria assisted the rookie in the 30th minute.
Just under 10 minutes later, the Comets pulled even after David Plumer’ s hard work winning a ball in the corner helped him draw a penalty kick when he beat his man in the box.
Favian Campbell converted the penalty kick with a shot high to the right corner of keeper Yashu Gurung (10 saves).
Perry Hall nearly got the lead with 15:05 left in the half, but goalie Eli Miller (six saves) made an outstanding save on a ball hit from in close by Sebastian Carl.
The Gators did get the go-head goal with 10:10 left in the half when Eichelberger made a deep run down the right side and fed senior Jared Mejia.
“We started building up the chemistry during practices and it just flowed and I was at the right place at the right time at the moment,” Mejia said. “I was lucky enough to be there for the finish.”
Mejia is a four-year varsity player.
“He’s a captain and he’s developed into a great leader and he’s a three-year starter for us and he’s a very determined young man that works very hard and we are happy to see him contribute,” Perry Hall coach Pete Eibner said.
Mejia had two excellent scoring chances in the second half, but one was rejected by a diving save by Miller and the other was a shot headed for an open net that was cleared at the last second by defender Wyatt Gentner.
“I had my chances. Their defense was playing really hard, trying to push up a lot, so it gave me chances, but I just couldn’t get one,” Mejia said. “Their goalie was nice.”
The senior knew the Comets weren’t going to back away in the second half.
“It’s hard to win against a good team like Catonsville,” Mejia said. “It’s not every day you get to win against a great team, especially in an away game.”
The Comets were more aggressive early in the second half, winning 50/50 balls and controlling the pace in the midfield.
“We made a tactical adjustment that allowed us to gain a little more possession,” Kennedy said. “Beyond that, almost everything else was mental, cleaning the game up, less mistakes and controlling the tempo of the game, instead of trying to force things faster than we were able to play them, we were a little more controlled.
They nearly got the equalizer less than two minutes into the second half when Danny Morton’s hard effort winning a ball in the corner led to a shot on goal by Plumer.
Less than 30 seconds later, Morton’s shot hit the left post.
The Comets also got clean looks from Campbell and Will Miller in the first 16 minutes, but both were saved.
“Everyone was on the same page and there was a hunger there in the second half that wasn’t there in the first half,” Kennedy said. “They were hungry to succeed and compete.”
The Comets also harnessed their speed, that had led to several offsides calls in the first half.
“We have incredible speed on this team. I’m sure we have four or five guys who are faster than most teams number one,” said Kennedy, whose defense also got solid help off the bench from junior Mark Brady.“He came off the bench and he kind of elevated us with his ability and I was really proud of the way he played today,”
But, the Comets defense couldn’t contain Perry Hall freshman Eichelberger in the first half.
“The freshman is just a wonderful kid. Zach just battles everything,” Eibner said. “He’s our second leading scorer, but what doesn’t show up on a stat sheet is how many tackles he wins, how many serves, how many passes, how many times he breaks down a defense.”
It was the fifth straight one-goal game for the Gators, who defeated Fallston, 3-2, but lost 1-0 decisions to Mt. Hebron and Bel Air and 2-1 to Eastern Tech.
“Whenever you play here, this is a very tough place to play and Catonsville is always going to battle here and they play hard,” Eibner said. “We are just happy to come out the way it came out. It was really a team effort on our part.”