By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — Maggie Boyle used to wear No. 35 for the Lower Cape May Regional High School field hockey team.
But when her uncle, Jeff Boyle, passed away after battling cancer a couple of years ago, Boyle switched her number to 33 in memory of him. Jeff wore No. 33 during his lacrosse career.
“I’m trying to make him proud,” Boyle said.
He certainly must have been smiling down from heaven Monday afternoon.
Boyle recorded a natural hat trick to open the scoring and later added a fourth goal as Lower Cape May rolled to a 6-1 victory over Gloucester in a first-round South Jersey Group I playoff game.
The circumstances around her third goal seemed to come straight out of a fairy tale. Her shot entered the cage with 33 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“When I scored the third goal, (teammate) Sabrina Faulkner told me to look up at the scoreboard and I saw there was 33 seconds left,” Boyle said. “I got the chills. It made me really proud. It was awesome.”
Boyle has been a difference maker for Lower (14-2) all season due to her speed, tenacity and stick-handling skills. Her four goals upped her season total to 11. She also leads the team with 12 assists.
“It really feels amazing” to score four times in a playoff game, Boyle said. “I feel like I wouldn’t have done it without my teammates and everyone coming together. It’s very rewarding.”
Lower coach Anne Bracken was impressed, but not surprised, with Boyle’s performance.
“She’s been playing extremely well all season,” Bracken said. “Today she just played her heart out.”
Jenna O’Neill posted a goal and an assist, Maddie Schiffbauer chipped in a goal and Jessica Goodroe chipped in an assist for Lower, which won its 10th straight.
“We scouted (Gloucester) last week, so we knew they had a couple good players with really good stick skills, but our pressure was very good,” Bracken said. “That’s what we try to do all the time, just really pressure the other team. I think we’re really playing as a team right now, too.”
Lower, the top seed in the tournament, is now in the midst of a week off. The team won’t play its second-round playoff game against No. 9 Gateway until next Monday.
“It can be tough to keep it going when you have such a long break but the girls have been so good at working hard all season,” Bracken said. “They practice every practice like it’s a game so I’m confident they’ll keep the energy up.”