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PHOTO GALLERY: Middle faring well against stiff competition

Middle Township's Kate Herlihy makes a move at the top of the circle as teammate Shea Gerhard looks on.

  • Middle Township's Kate Herlihy advances the ball toward the circle as teammate Veronica Johnson looks on from right.
  • Middle Township's Caroline Gallagher, shown here from a game earlier this season, scored the lone goal to lift the Middle Township High School field hockey team to a 1-0 win over Cedar Creek Monday.
  • Middle's Kate Herlihy eludes a pair of St. Joe defenders.
  • Middle Township's Briar Rose Lemma attempts to push the ball past a St. Joe defender.
  • Middle Township's Ava Karimalis prepares to flick the ball forward.
  • Middle Township's Kate Herlihy makes a move at the top of the circle as teammate Shea Gerhard looks on.
  • Middle Township's Kelcie Morrow looks to protect the ball from a closing St. Joe defender.

By BRIAN CUNNIFF

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Middle Township High School field hockey team’s record stands at 5-4 through nine games, a rather pedestrian mark considering the standards the program has set in recent years.

But don’t let that fool you.

This team is good.

The Lady Panthers thoroughly dominated what is always a good St. Joseph team Thursday afternoon, posting a 3-0 victory in a game they easily could have won by double that score had they converted more chances, including a late penalty stroke. About 85 percent of the game was played in the St. Joseph half of the field.

Kate Herlihy scored twice and Caroline Gallagher added the third goal, while goalie Kaitlyn Hand posted her fourth shutout of the season for Middle.

Middle is 5-1 in Cape-Atlantic National Conference games, the lone defeat coming at Cedar Creek. The other three losses came to South Jersey powers Shawnee, defending South Jersey Group III champion Clearview and Ocean City, which had a strong of five straight sectional titles snapped last season.

The defeat at Shawnee came by an alarming 10-0 score, but the loss at Clearview was by just 1-0 and the setback at Ocean City earlier this week was by 4-0 after Middle trailed by only 1-0 at the half.

“I wanted to challenge ourselves and go out and play the best teams that would play us to help make us better for the (state) playoffs,” Middle coach Janina Perna said. “I feel like if you don’t challenge yourselves you can lose out on an opportunity in the playoffs because you’re not as used to playing tough teams. It’s OK to lose as long as we played some good hockey in those games and for the most part we did.”

Middle has some other tough out-of-conference games looming before the regular season is complete, against Egg Harbor Township, Cinnaminson, Delsea and Millville.

It stands to reason that Middle will be very prepared when the South Jersey Group I Tournament begins. Last season, with a rather young roster, the Lady Panthers made a surprising run to the sectional title game before losing in penalty strokes.

They may just emerge as the favorites when the playoffs begin late next month.

“I think we’re playing really well,” Perna said. “I think a lot of our younger kids that didn’t have experience last year have more experience now and they’re a lot more confident. We have a lot of underclassmen who are leaders, especially offensively. We’re not struggling as much offensively as we did last year.”