By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The state playoffs are coming soon, so the Middle Township High School boys soccer team is doing all it can to make sure the team is playing at peak performance.
The Panthers sure looked to be at that level Monday afternoon.
Thanks to three second-half goals, all involving David Gardner, Middle posted a 3-0 result over a solid Millville team in a Cape-Atlantic League inter-conference match.
“We’re confident we can succeed out here,” Middle coach Matt Gilbert said. “We’ve had a tough time sustaining the lead and keeping it when we’ve played some of the big boys but right now I feel like we’re peaking at the right time.”
After a scoreless first half, Gardner got the opener eight minutes after the interval on a penalty kick after being sandwiched to the ground in the penalty area by a pair of Thunderbolt defenders.
Millville (10-5) nearly leveled the game a few minutes later when Jeremiah Nunez chipped over Middle goalkeeper Braiden Scarpa from 25 yards but narrowly missed the right post.
Middle (10-8) later used excellent passing to take firm control of the game in the 64th minute. Brendon Bartha sprung Gardner down the left flank. Gardner powered past the defense and cut the ball across to a wide open Max Gilbert, who merely had to tap in at the right post.
Gardner finished the scoring less than a minute ahead of full time by overpowering a Millville back along the left side and racing into the penalty area before slotting just inside the far post.
The brace gave Gardner a team-best 23 goals on the season.
Middle is projected as the eighth or ninth seed for the upcoming South Jersey Group II playoffs. An opening-round victory would mean a date with top-seeded Delran.
“Hopefully we can come out in the first round and win and then maybe surprise someone along the way,” Gilbert said.Middle finishes the regular season Wednesday with a non-league match at Woodstown.