By BRIAN CUNNIFF
STONE HARBOR — The first time the Middle Township High School and Wildwood Catholic Academy girls soccer teams faced one another, extra time was needed for Middle to come out a winner.
But when the teams met again Tuesday, Middle made sure there was no late drama this time.
The Lady Panthers scored a pair of goals in each half and thoroughly limited Crusader opportunities in the final third in a convincing 4-0 victory under glorious mid November playing conditions.
“Both teams have a lot more experience because we’ve played a lot more games and Wildwood Catholic’s done well this year, so with them playing on their home field we were concerned coming into this,” Middle coach Mike Hickman said. “But the kids did a good job of letting the game come to them and then things opened up for us. We got kind of a lucky goal to start off and then we had a few nice ones after that.”
Middle opened the scoring with somewhat of a fluke goal, with Skylar Bowyer chipping a pass from Eva Dimitrov high into the air and perfectly under the crossbar and inside the left post.
Izzy Aftanis then tallied what could be one of the top goals you’d ever see in a high school girls soccer game, a wonderful strike from 35 yards off a free kick that whizzed into the top of the net just inches below the crossbar.
Hannah Price then scored off McKenna Gregory’s assist early in the second half, giving Middle an insurmountable advantage. Brooke Nabb rounded out the scoring off a pass from Olivia Sgrignioli.
Brynn Bock posted the shutout in goal, her seventh of the season.
Middle (7-2-1) is the top seed for the upcoming Southeast A sectional tournament. There is potential the Lady Panthers could meet No. 5 Wildwood Catholic (4-5) again in the semifinal round.
“Wildwood Catholic is a solid team and they’re doing well. We could see them again,” Hickman said. “We’re getting a lot of kids varsity playing time. We’re trying to make sure we can go 18, almost 20 deep. I think you have to bring your underclassmen up as fast as you can. We have a solid foundation with our upperclassmen and they’ve been really really helping out the younger kids and it’s starting to show on the field.”