By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — The Lower Cape May Regional High School boys soccer program’s long postseason drought is over.
The Caper Tigers got an early goal and made it stand up in a 1-0 victory over local rival Middle Township in an opening-round game in the South West/South East Region Group II Tournament Saturday afternoon.
The victory was Lower’s first in a postseason match since 2004.
“One hundred percent, the kids were aware it’s been a long time,” Lower Cape May coach Dennis Elia said.
The victory sends the eighth-seeded Caper Tigers into the quarterfinal round against top-seeded Oakcrest on Tuesday.
“Our kids are on cloud nine right now but we can’t celebrate too much,” Elia said. “We’re not done yet and we still have a lot of work to do to get ready for Tuesday. I want us to enjoy the moment but Oakcrest is obviously the No. 1 seed so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
Lower Cape May got the game’s only tally in the second minute when Jordan Pierce ran down a ball chipped to the right of goal by Andrew Weber and pounded a shot inside the far left post to finish an excellent counterattack.
“It’s very strange, especially in a Middle-Lower game, to see an early goal like that hold up,” Elia said.
Center back Donovan Richardson led a wonderful defensive effort by the Caper Tigers. In addition to effectively clearing his line with consistency, Richardson also distributed well out of the back, taking the bite out of Middle’s pressure and allowing his teammates to effectively counterattack.
“I thought defensively all our guys in the back stepped up today, but Donovan Richardson, this might have been his best game in his four years here,” Elia said. “He stepped up real big for us. His distribution once he won the ball made all the difference for us. It helped us find feet instead of just kicking and running all over the place.”
Still, ninth-seeded Middle (5-5-1) had its chances. Lower’s Anderson Ryan made a diving save at the right post of a shot by Middle’s Gavin Quinn with 11 minutes to play. Four minutes later, Middle’s best chance missed by inches when Steve Berrodin struck the right post.
“I’m not disappointed in the way we played,” Middle coach Matt Gilbert said.” We had opportunities once again and didn’t capitalize on them. They got that early goal but that didn’t change the way we were going to play. I thought we did well the first 20 minutes of the game even though we were trailing by a goal. But maybe we ran out of steam a little bit in the second half.”
The game was just Middle’s second since Oct. 23, after the team was forced to shut down operations for two weeks and quarantine due to a COVID-19 issue.
“Taking two weeks off, especially at this point of the season is tough,” Gilbert said. “But we’re resilient. The kids responded well. I’m happy with the effort everyone gave. I’m just glad we had the opportunity to have a season with everything going on this year.”
Saturday’s result guarantees that Lower (6-4) will finish with a winning record for the first time since going 10-5-3 in 2010.