The South Jersey boys soccer tournament is scheduled to begin this week. Two Cape May County teams – Ocean City and Wildwood Catholic – will enjoy first-round games at home, while three others – Lower Cape May, Middle Township and Wildwood – will each play on the road in their tournament openers.
The following is a look at each Cape May County team that has qualified for the state playoffs.
LOWER CAPE MAY: Dennis Elia’s team went 6-10-1 in the regular season, finishing with a 6-1 win over county rival Cape May Tech. They face a daunting task in the first round of the South Jersey Group II Tournament, the 15th-seeded Caper Tigers traveling to No. 2 Haddonfield on Tuesday for a 2 p.m. start. Haddonfield is traditionally one of the best smaller-school programs in South Jersey. The winner will face No. 7 Bordentown or No. 10 Collingswood in the second round on Friday. Gabe Crowley and Pat Moore are among Lower Cape May’s top players. They’ve combined for 18 goals this season.
MIDDLE TOWNSHIP: Middle Township has almost quietly produced a solid season in what was projected as a bit of rebuilding year under first-year head coach Matt Gilbert, finishing 10-5-1 in the regular season. The Panthers are seeded ninth for the South Jersey Group II Tournament and will face a familiar foe in No. 8 Oakcrest on Tuesday at 2 p.m. Middle is on the road for the game despite posting a pair of one-goal victories over the Falcons during the regular season by scores of 1-0 and 4-3. The winner will most likely take on No. 1 seed Delran on Friday. Middle finished the regular season by posting four wins and a draw in its last five matches. David Gardner (12 goals) and Matt Brown (11 goals) lead the Middle offense.
OCEAN CITY: An excellent regular season that ended with a record of 15-2-1 has the Raiders in solid position to make a strong run in the South Jersey Group III Tournament as the bracket’s No. 1 seed. The Raiders host No. 16 Bridgeton on Tuesday at 2 p.m. and then, with a victory over the Bulldogs, would get No. 9 Lacey Township or No. 8 Barnegat on Friday. Ocean City enters the tournament battled tested after winning a game over Glassboro and competing with eventual champion Washington Township in a second-round game in the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association Tournament. Ocean City features a rather dynamic offense, led by Hunter Paone (12 goals), Trevor Paone (eight goals, 10 assists), Luke Varallo (eight goals), Matt Brook (seven goals) and Josiah Nistorenko (four goals, 15 assists). Meanwhile, goalkeeper Garret Vliet has recorded five shutouts. If seeds hold to form through the tournament, Ocean City would host bitter rival Mainland in the South Jersey title game.
WILDWOOD: Wildwood (8-10 regular season) finished strongly with a four-game winning streak. But the Warriors are seeded only 14th for the South Jersey Group I Tournament and must travel to No. 3 Pitman for a first-round game Tuesday at 2 p.m. It’s a tough spot for the Warriors, who lost by a combined 12-1 to the Panthers in two regular-season games. The winner will face No. 6 Schalick or No. 11 Audubon in the second round Friday. Wildwood is led by Dennis McAllister, who recorded a county-best 24 goals to go with 10 assists. Tyler Tomlin (13 goals), Will Long (eight goals) and defender Kyion Flanders are other top players.
WILDWOOD CATHOLIC: Wildwood Catholic, the Cape-Atlantic United Conference champion, came through the regular season with an excellent 12-3-1 record. The Crusaders are the No. 4 seed for the South Jersey Non-Public B Tournament and will be heavy favorites against No. 13 Gloucester Catholic on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at home. A win would give Wildwood Catholic a second-round home game against No. 5 Moorestown Friends or No. 13 St. Joseph (Hammonton). Looming in the sectional semifinal for the Crusaders will most likely be top-seeded Gill St. Bernard. The Crusaders are led by leading scorers Beck Lindsay and Taylor Ohntrup (nine goals each), defender Rakim Coyle and midfielder Tyler Mericle.
— Brian Cunniff