By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Middle Township High School field hockey team simply couldn’t break the Raiders’ pressure when it counted most.
Nya Gilchrist scored with a minute remaining in the third quarter to give Ocean City the lead for good, tipping the ball out of the air and into the cage on the Raiders’ fourth consecutive corner chance. The tally gave Ocean City a 2-1 lead that stood up as the final score.
“I don’t think we capitalized with our offense,” Middle coach Janina Perna said. “We wasted possessions. I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but a lot of times we had chances to move it out of the backfield and we kept making the same mistakes and Ocean City was taking advantage of it.”
Kate Herlihy had leveled the score for Middle midway through the third quarter, blasting a shot inside the right post off a corner chance. The goal canceled out Tara McNally’s for Ocean City (9-2), which came less than three minutes into the contest.
But Ocean City quickly responded to Herlihy’s goal by pushing the ball into the shooting circle and forcing Middle infractions that resulted in corner chances. The Raiders, who out-cornered Middle by 18-5 for the game, finally broke through on the fourth when Gilchrist scored from just a few yards from the cage.
“I don’t think that was our finest performance,” Perna said. “We’ve had a few games this season where we’ve played better than this. We didn’t take advantage enough when we had the ball. We fell into some bad habits and couldn’t break them.”
Grace Thompson kept Middle in it throughout, making a handful of terrific saves in goal. Two came on high flicks that seemed ticketed for the top corner but Thompson was able to use her blocker to parry both shots away from the cage.
“She’s very good,” Perna said. “And she was excellent today.”
The result was Middle’s second close loss to Ocean City this season. The Lady Panthers fell, 1-0, on Oct. 21 when the Raiders scored the winning goal with less than 30 seconds to play.
Still, Middle (8-2-1) is in a good position despite the loss. The team finishes the regular season Tuesday against Holy Spirit before embarking on what it hopes is a long sectional playoff run. The Lady Panthers are the top seed in the Southwest Region A playoffs and will host No. 16 Riverside on Friday.