By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — As good of a season as the Middle Township High School soccer team has had, it’s difficult to comprehend that the Lady Panthers hadn’t experienced a victory in close to a month going into Tuesday’s state playoff game.
Middle, however, put to rest a six-game stretch without a win with a comprehensive performance.
Middle, the fifth seed in the South Jersey Group II Tournament, scored a pair of early goals to take control and went on to a 4-0 victory over No. 12 Barnegat.
Middle will next play Friday at noon at No. 4 Cinnaminson.
After winning its first 12 games of the season, Middle faced some very difficult competition over the final two weeks of the season and limped to the finish, grabbing only a draw over its final six regular-season games. Four of the five losses were by one goal.
But the tough competition certainly had Middle prepared to defend its home field on Tuesday.
“It was nice to see them come out the way they did,” Middle coach Mike Hickman said of his players. “Obviously, our last five, six games we’ve taken on some really good teams. We’ve been working hard on some things we knew we needed to improve on. So to be able to come and play like this today was good for everybody.”
Kailey Sanchez and Olivia Sgrignioli found the net within the first 10 minutes as Middle (13-5-1) grabbed immediate control of the contest.
“Scoring two early is big,” Hickman said. “It can change how you play the game and how you coach the game when you have a two-goal lead.”
Eva Dimitrov tallied off Sophia Sgrignioli’s cross early in the second half, before Olivia Sgrignioli converted a penalty kick after her sister was taken down in the penalty area to finish off the scoring.
Aside from a shot off a restart that struck the post in the first half, Barnegat (8-10) generated little in the way of offensive threats. Brianna Robinson posted the shutout in goal.
“I thought our back line did really well and our midfield controlled the middle of the field today,” Hickman said. “We’re happy with the outcome.”
Middle’s next opponent is annually one of the top smaller-school programs in South Jersey. Cinnaminson was a 6-0 winner over Oakcrest in its tournament opener.
“Cinnaminson traditionally has a great program,” Hickman said. “There’s a long history of good teams coming out of that school, so we’re going to have to be ready to play.”