By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Middle Township High School field hockey team has inched closer to securing its first outright Cape-Atlantic National Conference title in Janina Perna’s nine seasons as head coach.
Middle posted a 2-0 victory over Lower Cape May Friday to strengthen its hold on first place in the conference. Middle needs to win just two of their remaining four conference games to clinch the championship. Middle has already recorded comfortable victories against all four of those opponents in the teams’ first meetings.
Middle has previously been the National Conference co-champion three times under Perna.
“We’ve never won it outright. We’ve always had to share it so it would be nice to have it on our own,” Perna said, “for this group of seniors, especially, because they’ve come so close a couple times.”
After a scoreless first half in which Middle enjoyed most of the possession and more of the chances, the Lady Panthers struck twice within six minutes early in the second half. Dakota Ludman opened the scoring by tipping Kate Herlihy’s shot from the middle of the circle. Later, Herlihy was credited with a goal after her shot from outside the circle was tipped by the Lower defense and went into the cage.
Middle certainly had to work harder this time against Lower Cape May. Middle rolled to a 6-0 win in the teams’ first meeting in mid September.
“This was a much better game because it reflected in how Lower played. They played very tough,” Perna said. “After halftime we adjusted some things we did wrong in the first half and it showed. We just weren’t aggressive enough. We had opportunities but we weren’t attacking with enough numbers. We were more aggressive in the second half and it paid off.”
Amber Howatt posted her 10th shutout of the season in goal for Middle (11-2 overall, 10-0 National Conference).
In addition to its four remaining conference games, Middle will also face Ocean City, Delsea and Lenape before the close of the regular season.
“I definitely think we’re getting better every time we play,” Perna said. “We have the hardest part of our schedule coming with the hardest teams we’ll see all year over the next two weeks. So that will test us.”
Lower Cape May’s only losses of the season have come against Middle. The Lady Tigers (7-2-1) also have a draw with Atlantic City among their results.