By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – It’s awfully rare to see the Middle Township High School girls basketball team with an under-.500 record in early January.
But that’s exactly where the Lady Panthers stand, even after Tuesday’s 53-8 rout of rebuilding St. Joseph.
But while coach John Leahy is a bit disappointed for the team’s 3-4 record through seven games, he’s certainly not unhappy about the way Middle has played.
“The effort has been very good and the attitude has been really good,” Leahy said. “We just have to learn how to practice better and learn how to win close games.”
Ah, close games.
Middle has lost three of them, after holding fourth-quarter leads in each. That’s one of the things that can happen to a team that is currently starting a freshman, three sophomores and a senior who didn’t play last season.
“We’re a typical young team,” Leahy said. “We had leads in the fourth quarter against three really good teams (Ocean City, Haddon Township, Atlantic City). We have to figure out how to close those out.”
Sophomore Kira Sides has been the team’s leading scorer. She had 19 points in the win over St. Joe, recently netted 33 in only three quarters in a win over Willingboro and had 21 in a key Cape-Atlantic United Conference win over Wildwood Catholic.
“I thought Kira could develop into a really good scorer,” Leahy said. “With this group, even as a sophomore, we need her to be aggressive and make plays.
“You look at the four who started (Tuesday against St. Joe), four of them are underclassmen and (senior) Brianna (Armstrong) didn’t play last year. Kira is literally the only one who played varsity last year.”
Middle played Tuesday’s game without junior Victoria London, who is out for a bit with injury. London also played varsity minutes last season.
The other starters were freshman Kate Herlihy, who has been a double-digit scorer in some games, and sophomores Natalia Rulon and Aubrey Hunter.
Sophomores Maddie Barber and Raine DeRose are also seeing significant time.
Middle has challenged itself with a difficult non-conference schedule. In addition to the games with Atlantic City, Ocean City and Haddon Township, the Lady Panthers have also lost to Eastern, one of the top teams in South Jersey. They’ll face another good non-conference foe later Friday, playing at Holy Spirit in the first game of the three-day Seagull Classic.
“We’re a long way, both individually and as a group, from being a finished product,” Leahy said. “We just need to work hard every day and get a little better every day and see where we are at the end.”