By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — It took second-seeded Ocean City all of 11 seconds to score against No. 1 Holy Spirit on Tuesday afternoon at Stockton University in the championship game of the inaugural Cape-Atlantic League Girls Lacrosse Tournament. Delainey Sutley gathered the opening face-off, raced down the field and deposited a shot into the back of the net for a 1-0 Red Raiders lead.
That was a harbinger of things to come, as Ocean City proved its league dominance with a resounding 16-4 win over Holy Spirit, which came into the game enjoying its finest season ever with 13 wins.
Ocean City jumped out to a 6-1 lead and by halftime that lead had reached 9-3. There simply wasn’t anything the Spartans could do to stop one of the most talented offenses in South Jersey. Ocean City has scored 235 goals in 17 games — an average of nearly 14 goals per game — and the Red Raiders’ only losses have come against state powers Moorestown and Lenape, and Cape Henlopen of Delaware. Cape-Atlantic League teams have scored just 42 goals in 10 matchups.
The Red Raiders (14-3) have won two straight since a loss to Cape Henlopen, including a 16-8 win over Lower Cape May in the CAL semis on Friday, and overall Ocean City has won seven of its last eight games heading into the start of the state tournament on Thursday.
“We’re very excited,” said Sutley, a sophomore, who led the way with a game-high five goals. “The approach was to get momentum early in the game and carry that through. We wanted to control the tempo from the beginning and never let up.”
“Holy Spirit’s a great team,” said Ocean City senior Ally Leeds, who finished with two goals and an assist. “My (step) sister (Holy Spirit captain Maddie Abbott) is over there and she loves it. There’s a lot of competition at home, but it’s all friendly. It’s nice to know that Ocean City came out on top and is the best team in the CAL.”
Sutley was unstoppable early, earning a hat trick before the game was even 11 minutes old. Her three early goals helped stake Ocean City to a 6-1 lead. Holy Spirit (13-5) fought back, cutting the deficit to 6-3 behind goals from Abbott and senior captain Maggie Cella, who scored off a steal with 8:54 remaining before halftime to cut the deficit to just three goals.
But the Red Raiders ripped off three goals before halftime to take a 9-3 advantage into the break.
Racheli Levy-Smith’s goal with 6:27 left in the first half pushed the lead to 7-3, Brynn Culmone fed Madison Wenner for a goal with 3:51 left, and Grace McAfee’s tally with just 2.1 seconds left in the half gave Ocean City a six-goal lead.
Ocean City scored three straight goals, including two from Sutley and another from Olivia Vanesko, to start the second half, and that swelled the lead to 12-3. In all, nine different players scored either a goal or an assist for Ocean City, and goalie Presley Green came up with seven saves against just four goals allowed.
“We were really excited on the bus here,” Leeds said. “Our last game we didn’t start out very well, but we finished well. We knew we had to come to play this whole game because (the Spartans) were going to be tough, and they were.”
Leeds said getting some good competition from Holy Spirit in the CAL Final is just what the Red Raiders needed ahead of the state tournament. Ocean City has some difficult challenges in the upcoming NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 tournament. If the third-seeded Raiders can get past No. 14 Hightstown in the opening round they’ll likely face No. 5 Clearview, and they are on the same side of the bracket with top-seeded Shawnee.
“I think this shows us some great competition and pushes us to be better,” Leeds said. “This makes us realize what we need to be working on in practice to be able to get to that state championship level. Our team has a lot of depth. It doesn’t matter who we put in, from top to bottom they are going to get the job done. I think that’s what separates us from other teams in this league.”
What’s next: Ocean City hosts Hightstown in the opening round of the state playoffs on Thursday, time TBD. Holy Spirit hosts Pope John in the opening round of the state playoffs on Monday, time TBD.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays