By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — Lexi Cremin experienced a moment that often only appears in the dreams of young soccer players.
The Lower Cape May Regional High School junior midfielder broke a scoreless draw by heading home Jordan Dougherty’s terrific crossing pass almost seven minutes into extra time in her team’s 1-0 victory over Wildwood in a South East A Region opening-round match Monday afternoon.
The victory sends eighth-seeded Lower Cape May (2-7) into a quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded Middle Township on Wednesday.
“I don’t think I ever felt that exhilarated when I was a player when that ball went in,” Lower coach Darren Rutherford said. “These girls have been working so hard. They’ve gone through their lumps. We’ve had some bad breaks. We had a tough couple of weeks in the middle of the season and it would’ve been easy for our girls to pack it in but they didn’t.
“They were absolutely working their butts off after a shaky first half. At halftime I challenged them that they had the opportunity to create at least another couple days for us and let’s make that happen. They completely proved they could step up to the occasion.”
Dougherty, one of the top players in the area, dribbled down the left flank before cutting toward the penalty area and delivering a precision cross into a dangerous area. Cremin ran toward the six-yard line and simply had to nod her head to redirect the ball into the net for the golden goal.
“Jordan can take a game over because she’s that type of player,” Rutherford said. “She has great vision and she knows where to go to create chances, whether that’s for herself or for other people. That’s how versatile she is as a player.”
Lower Cape May enjoyed most of the possession in the match but both teams had chances to win the game in regulation. Ninth-seeded Wildwood failed to score on two breakways inside the final 15 minutes, one shot missing the frame and the other foiled on a good save by Lower’s Kiara Soto on a shot by Jenna Hans.
“We felt like we knew coming in here what they were going to try to do against us, so we tried to put together a plan that put us in a best position to win and and that was that we were going to be very reliant on the counterattack,” Wildwood coach Mark Scarpa said. “We created some chances but we just didn’t finish.”
Lower Cape May had a pair of shots from the right flank sail just over the crossbar over the final 20 minutes. The Lady Tigers also nearly snatched the result at the death but Wildwood goalkeeper Imene Fathi made a leaping save of Tessa Heuber’s blast from 15 yards out with 10 seconds to play.
Lower Cape May gets a third crack at Middle Township this season on Wednesday. The first two meetings did not go well, with Middle winning by a combined 9-0 margin.
But Rutherford said his team is looking forward to the opportunity to compete.
“They’re tough, they’re athletic and they have good players at every position,” he said. “But as long as the girls show up and play the way we did in this second half, we can be competitive and have a chance. We’re looking forward to this third game against them.”
Wildwood (2-11) is scheduled to finish its season Tuesday against Cape May Tech with its final regular-season game under the lights at Kaitlin Anzelone Memorial Field at 5 p.m.
“I was really proud of the effort our kids gave forth,” Scarpa said. “We started the year with only 14 players and we had about two weeks where we only had 11 players. Today we had one sub. I think our kids left everything out on the field.”