By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Last week, the Middle Township High School boys soccer team took a 1-0 lead into halftime against Mainland, only to see the Mustangs score two quick goals early in the second half. The Panthers eventually suffered a 4-3 loss.
The same scenario occurred Monday against Ocean City. Only this time, Middle rallied from its early second-half lapses.
David Gardner and Brendon Bartha scored goals three minutes apart late in the latter stages of the second half as Middle rallied for a 3-2 victory over their Cape-Atlantic National Conference rival.
“This was the same tempo as the Mainland game that we dropped,” Middle coach Matt Gilbert said. “We were up 1-0, thought we had the momentum because we thought we had more of the possession at the end of the half, and then the next thing you know we’re in a 2-1 hole and we lose 4-3. The same thing happened today but we kept chasing them and didn’t give up. The kids persevered.”
Bartha’s outstanding corner-kick cross with 12 minutes to play found David Gardner, who blasted a header inside the right post to level the score. Three minutes later, a brilliant Gardner touch sliced open the Ocean City defense and sprung Batha unabated into the box. Bartha calmly slotted the ball into the left corner of goal for the winner.
“I think a win like this shows we’re still up there with the better teams,” Gilbert said. “After our Cherry Hill East game (a 3-2 loss), we really feel like we can run with anybody. We had that 5-1 loss to Oakcrest but we’re changing some things around. This is a big win. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season and the playoffs.”
Bartha also had a hand in the opening goal, which came with just nine seconds to play in the first half. After his initial cross from the left side of the box was blocked, Bartha powered past the defender and slid the ball to a wide-open Anthony Avila, who tapped in easily from five yards.
Ocean City (1-3) responded quickly after the interval. The Raiders took advantage of sloppy play in Middle’s defense and caused a turnover, which led to John Lindsay finding Ori Levy-Smith to level the game. Lindsay set up Levy-Smith for the go-ahead tally less than two minutes later, Levy-Smith heading Lindsay’s corner kick inside the left post.
But Middle (6-3) gained more momentum and enjoyed more possession as the half progressed, eventually leading to the goals by Gardner and Bartha that allowed the Panthers to celebrate at the full time whistle.