By BRIAN CUNNIFF
STONE HARBOR — When you haven’t tasted a state playoff victory in more than two decades, sometimes you need something extraordinary to break the hex.
The Wildwood Catholic Academy girls soccer team got just that Tuesday afternoon.
The first career goal by freshman Megan Feketics kickstarted a solid game-long effort by the Crusaders as they downed Mater Dei, 2-0, in a first-round South Jersey Non-Public B game played during cool, windy and misty conditions just steps from the beach.
The victory was Wildwood Catholic’s first in a state playoff game since 2000, when the program — led by Katie Doran, Janelle Wesier, Rachel Constantine and Jen Flounders — made its only appearance in a South Jersey final.
“I feel great for our seniors,” Wildwood Catholic coach Kara Saunders said. “It kind of brings it full circle for this class. When they came in here as freshmen we struggled just to get 11 players. Then we got it up to 20 and we got better. So to play their last game at home in a state playoff game and get a win, it’s huge. They really deserve it.”
Feketics’ tally, scored with her left foot just inside the left post late in the first half, broke a scoreless draw and allowed the sixth-seeded Crusaders (9-8) to settle into the contest against upset-minded No. 11 Mater Dei (3-12-1).
Feketics didn’t see much playing time early in the season but injuries to teammates and her own improvement have thrust her into a starting role of late.
“Megan has been coming to training every day since July and she was so raw when she started,” Saunders said. “We’ve seen this coming from her. She had a great practice yesterday. She’s wanted it so bad and she’s just gotten so much better this season. It’s very exciting to see.”
With Mater Dei sending more numbers forward in the second half in an effort to find a goal, Wildwood Catholic began to find success on the counterattack. Senior Ivy Bolle was particularly dangerous, and she finally broke through when she finished Kimmy Casiello’s creative distribution out the midfield a little past the midway point of the second half to create a two-goal margin.
“A one-goal lead is always nice, but to get that second one was just great for us,” Saunders said.
Wildwood Catholic freshman goalkeeper Grace Murphy made a number of big saves in the contest, including a pair late in the first half. She tipped one outstanding long-range effort over the crossbar a few minutes before tipping another high shot from close range off the crossbar before her teammates cleared away the danger.
Casiello, Nola Quinn and Roan Jacqueline were particularly effective in the midfield, while Reagan Flickinger, Delaney Robb, Julia Belansen and Ava Vogdes did strong work in the back for Wildwood Catholic.
The Crusaders will travel to third-seeded St. Rose for a second-round matchup Friday. St. Rose had a first-round bye.