By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The last time the Lower Cape May Regional High School boys soccer team beat rival Middle Township, Miguel Valencia was a pre-schooler.
On Wednesday, the freshman helped the Caper Tigers put that long losing streak to bed.
Valencia scored twice in the second half as Lower Cape May stunned Middle, 3-2, to break a 10-year, 17-game winless streak against its county rival.
“This means everything for these kids to beat them,” Lower coach Dennis Elia said. “Our seniors were 0-7 going against Middle so this is everything for them. And for our younger kids, they see that they can do it.”
Middle held a 1-0 lead after Brendon Bartha tapped in Steve Berrodin’s cross late in the first half. The Panthers seemed in full control, dominating possession and generating lots of chances.
But Lower goalkeeper Mark Ryan, proving his reputation as one of the top players at his position in the state, made quite a few wonderful saves. And the Tiger defense stay organized and composed despite being on the back foot for most of the match.
Ryan made 11 saves.
“Mark was unbelievable,” Elia said. “He was all-South Jersey and all-state (Group II) last year but this was by far the best game he’s had in his four years here.”
Lower (2-7) went long stretches without enjoying possession in Middle’s third of the field. But then Jordan Pierce was fouled a couple yards outside the box and Valencia found the upper right corner of goal on the free kick to level the score 15 minutes into the second half.
“That’s the kind of talent and ability he has,” Elia said of Valencia. “It’s ironic because he’s one of the smallest kids on the field but he’s been huge for us all year. He’s been around the goal all season and hasn’t been able to score but he finally got it in there today and he got it in there twice.”
Lower later scored twice within two minutes, both on counterattacks. Jordan Pierce netted the go-ahead tally with 13 ½ minutes to play and Valencia bagged his second moments later as the Tigers shocked those in attendance by going ahead by a pair of goals.
Off a corner kick, David Gardner chipped in from the near post with 10 minutes to play to bring Middle (7-4) within a goal, but Lower saw the game and the victory out with stellar defending in the final minutes.
“I’d beaten them once (Oct. 22, 2009) in my 14 years (as head coach),” Elia said. “So this feels really good for us.”