By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The players on the Middle Township High School girls soccer team wanted just one more game.
They were denied it in the cruelest of manners.
The Lady Panthers fell to Cedar Creek in penalty kicks, 4-2, after a 2-2 draw in a South East A Region semifinal game Friday afternoon.
Fourth-seeded Cedar Creek advances to Sunday’s sectional championship game against No. 2 Oakcrest, which beat No. 3 Holy Spirit in extra time in the other semifinal.
“Losing this way is hard,” Middle coach Mike Hickman said. “Both teams were evenly matched, so it was a good game both ways. They began the game very strong against us and then we kind of countered from there. There were some nice goals scored on both sides. But there were also two solid defenses out there and then it comes down to penalty kicks and all you can do is hope for the best.”
After the teams traded successful kicks through the first two rounds, Cedar Creek goalkeeper Olivia Vanelli made saves on the next two Middle tries to put her team in position to win it. Abigail McGinley then calmly slotted her shot inside the right post on her team’s fourth try to clinch the win for the Pirates (6-3-2).
“Their keeper made some nice saves and that’s the difference,” Hickman said. “For the kids, particularly the seniors, it’s very tough.”
Middle freshman Olivia Sgrgnioli opened the scoring by following up the rebound of C.C. DiMauro’s blast that struck the crossbar. Sgrignioli had no problems tapping into the right side of goal when the ball bounced almost directly to her right foot.
Cedar Creek quickly equalized when Corinne Morgan blasted inside the right post after Middle failed to clear a bouncing ball in the top of the penalty area.
But Eva Dimitrov put Middle back on top a few minutes before the interval with a wonderful piece of individual skill, touching the ball around a defender before ripping a shot that nicked the bottom of the crossbar and fell into the net.
Cedar Creek equalized late, however, when McGinley hit the upper right corner from a free kick from 25 yards.
Both teams had their chances in extra time, but neither side truly came close to scoring, setting up penalty kicks.
Middle, the top seed in the section, finished this pandemic shortened season at 9-2-2 overall.
“This is obviously an extremely trying time for everybody,” Hickman said. “We’re seeing more and more school districts going virtual because they’ve had (COVID-19) situations. These kids from July 28 to now have been nothing but committed to soccer. They made sacrifices to make sure they didn’t have exposure issues. They really bought in. It would have been nice to get one more game but I’m so proud of the way they finished the year out. This is a great bunch of young ladies.”
Middle says goodbye to a few key seniors but will otherwise bring back a very strong group, particularly among the current sophomore class.
“You never want to lose but the first thing I told the kids was to make it a learning experience and learn from it,” Hickman said. “You don’t have to be happy about it but you do have to learn from it and move on. The experience our underclassmen got this year has been invaluable. We had a lot of young kids play in a lot of key games. It shows how far they’ve come from late July all the way to now.”