By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Middle Township High School field hockey team played its best game of the season Wednesday afternoon.
That effort has landed the Lady Panthers in the South West A Region championship game.
Middle Township used a comprehensive performance from across its lineup and controlled play throughout in a 3-1 win over Woodstown.
“This was definitely our best game of the season,” Middle coach Janina Perna said. “It all came together right from the opening whistle. We controlled a lot of that game. This was definitely the best we’ve played.”
Middle, the top seed in the tournament, will face No. 2 Haddon Township on Saturday for the sectional championship. As the top seed, Middle has the right to host the game, but the NJSIAA has recommended that all sectional title games be played on artificial turf fields. As of Wednesday evening, Middle was attempting to find a neutral site with a turf field willing to host the game. Short of that, the contest will most likely be played at Middle. An announcement is expected Thursday.
Unlike in its contest in the previous round against Haddon Heights, when the team got off to a slow start before taking control in the second quarter, Middle (12-2-1) was on point from the start, keeping play in the Woodstown end for much of the first quarter.
Middle wasn’t able to find the cage in the opening period, but did so quickly in the second when Maddy Scarpa’s shot from in front of the cage fell across the goal line after being deflected high into the air by a Woodstown defender.
The Lady Panthers grabbed an insurance goal in the third quarter when Lexie Frank whipped the ball into the cage to finish off a wild netmouth scramble.
Kate Herlihy put the game away in the fourth by converting a penalty stroke after she was pushed from behind while playing the ball in the shooting circle.
All the while, Middle’s defense was stout throughout. The Lady Panthers limited Woodstown’s pushes toward the scoring circle and cleared away all corner chances. The Wolverines (11-4) got their goal through Kaylee Wenzel with just five seconds to play.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” Perna said. “We said before the game that everyone was a defender today, that all 11 players needed to play defense. We even had our forwards coming back and playing defense.”
The win also represented a bit of revenge for Middle, which lost to Woodstown at home in last year’s South Jersey title game.
“This was a year in the making,” Perna said. “We lost a heartbreaker to them last year. It was a game we probably could have won. We were working to get to this game and when we saw we’d play Woodstown the girls got a little extra excited about it. It was a little bit of redemption from last year.”
Win or lose, Saturday’s game with Haddon Township will be Middle’s last of the 2020 season. Due to the health crisis, all playoffs are ending with sectional title games.
“It’s definitely special to be able to play Saturday,” Perna said. “In this weird year, the girls worked so hard, especially considering all the things that have happened. To go to the end, as far as we can play, it’s really rewarding, especially for this senior class.”