By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Middle Township High School field hockey team created a flurry of corner chances at the death of Thursday’s South Jersey Group II title game.
“I really thought we were going to score,” Middle coach Janina Perna said. “I knew it was right there. An inch or two one way or the other and one of those balls goes in.”
The ball didn’t go in, and Middle was left to feel the pain of a crushing defeat.
Woodstown scored goals early in each half and withstood Middle’s late-game pressure to post a 2-1 victory to secure the sectional championship.
It was Middle’s third straight loss in a South Jersey final after winning the title in 2016.
Middle had its season ended at 18-4-1.
“This is hard, but it’s one game,” Perna said, fighting back tears. “We can’t feel like we’re a failure. I want them to remember everything along the way. We had a lot of accomplishments and a lot to be proud of. I want them to look back on those good memories and those good moments instead of this loss.”
Woodstown (19-3-1), the third seed in the tournament, stunned the top-seeded hosts when Charlie Baldwin found the back of the net before the game was five minutes old. But Middle answered quickly, Kate Herlihy scoring less than 30 seconds later on blast from about 15 yards away off a pass from Caroline Gallagher.
But Woodstown controlled play from the there. The Wolverines created six corner chances through the remainder of the half and looked like the better team even though the score was tied at the half.
“I think we were nervous and we played on our back heels for a lot of it,” Perna said. “We did too much reacting to them instead of setting the tone. I don’t think they were the better team but they capitalized more on their opportunities.”
Woodstown capitalized for the winner early in the second half when Baldwin ripped a shot inside the post from close range.
Middle eventually gain momentum in the final 10 minutes, playing most of it in Woodstown’s third of the field. But the Lady Panthers couldn’t find the goal that would have kept their championship dreams alive.