By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — On Tuesday afternoon at the Tennessee Avenue fields, the host Red Raiders had played well enough to score a couple of goals against visiting Middle Township, but a tenacious Panthers defense, led by keeper Braiden Scarpa, had kept a clean sheet all day. So, in the waning moments, Ocean City was doing everything it could to get shots on net, hoping to squeak one by so the Red Raiders could come away with the result they felt they deserved.
Senior Drew Tarr delivered in the 79th minute, scoring the game’s only goal — even though he wasn’t trying to — in Ocean City’s 1-0 victory over Middle. Tarr was simply trying to deliver a good cross for a potential header, but he struck the ball so well that he was able to get it around Scarpa, off a defender and into the right side of the net.
The win puts Ocean City (2-0, 2-0) into first place in the new Cape-Atlantic League South Division, which also features Middle (0-1-1, 0-1), Lower Cape May, Cape May Tech and Wildwood Catholic.
“I was just trying to really cross it in, and somehow it deflected off a defender and went in,” Tarr said. “It wasn’t our best game, but I think we played better than (Middle) and deserved to come away with the win.”
“I don’t think you win every game you feel like you deserve to, but it was nice to see that. It was kind of a fluke goal, but I think it was one that was well earned because of all the build-up. I don’t know how many chances we had — and I think they had one shot on goal against us. It was good to see our guys’ hard work pay off,” added Ocean City coach Aaron Bogushefsky. “The better the opponent, the better the victory is. And Middle is a good, up-and-coming team. They have a lot of young players on that team and they stacked up well against us today. They had a good game plan that was two minutes away from working, so we’re happy that our game plan prevailed in the end.”
Neither team had many scoring chances in the first half, as Ocean City tried to build out of the back while going against the wind and Middle countered with long balls, hoping their forwards could run under them and get shots off. With less than 30 seconds left in the half, the Raiders’ Ori Levy-Smith had a golden opportunity from about 10 yards away, but he turned and shot just high over the crossbar.
The second half featured more missed opportunities by the Red Raiders, including several on set pieces. Early in the second half, Reed Lindsay sent a pretty cross in from the left side but there was nobody there to run onto it. Later in the second half, Lindsay’s shot off a free kick just outside the 18 sailed high. The Red Raiders finally hit pay dirt when Nick Chiccarine sent a ball through to Tarr in the left corner, and Tarr did the rest, notching the game’s only tally with 1:33 remaining.
“We’ve been preparing for this all offseason and we’ve been waiting for this home opener all year. We were ready to go. We just wanted to stick to our game plan and try to create chances to score,” Tarr said.
“The way we moved the ball — especially the first half, just moving it so fluidly around the field — and the way they are playing together is a good sign. Things may break down here or there, but you can see the groundwork has been laid for what we are trying to do,” Bogushefsky explained. “It’s tough sometimes when a team sits a lot of their guys back it can be hard to get through, so you have to come up with a way. We found a way today, and it’s not always pretty. You want to get those highlight-reel goals, but it just doesn’t work out that way every time. We just want to score scrappy goals, score great goals — score anything to try to win the game.”
What’s next: Middle Township travels to Absegami on Thursday at 4 p.m. Ocean City hosts Mainland Regional on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays