By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — Last October, the Holy Spirit High field hockey team handed Middle Township a 4-1 defeat, ending the Panthers’ seven game unbeaten streak. Before that game, Middle was off to a 7-1-1 start. But that loss sent the Panthers reeling, and they finished the season going 3-7-1 after getting stuffed by the Spartans.
The Panthers didn’t forget on Tuesday afternoon how Sparty had basically ruined their 2022 season.
They took out their frustration with a 2-0 victory over Holy Spirit that featured the Panthers dominating most of the possession and pace of play. They got a first-quarter goal off a corner from senior captain Abbie Teefy and a clincher late in the fourth quarter from sophomore Allie Brady, and in the process Middle took over sole possession of first place in the Cape-Atlantic League United Conference standings.
The Panthers (4-1, 4-0 CAL United) were coming off their only loss of the season, a 6-0 setback against a very good Bishop Eustace team over the weekend. The win puts the Panthers a full game ahead of Holy Spirit (4-1, 3-1 CAL United) in the standings.
“It was definitely an important game. We knew what was on the line, and we knew they were going to be scrappy,” said Panthers coach Janina Perna. “But I was confident in our abilities. We play a really hard nonconference schedule, and these are the games when that should play out. Bishop Eustace was a fantastic team. The score was 6-0, but I think we played great, and that should translate into conference games, and it did. I’m proud of them.”
“We’re pretty even teams, I think, and they give us the best competition in our conference, so we really needed to win this game if we want to win the conference,” Teefy said. “We knew we had to play hard and continue (to pressure them) the entire game. (At halftime) we talked about keeping it up and that we just had to get some goals in. We had a lot of offensive possession, we just need to get some shots in.”
Middle had the better of the possession throughout the first half, but had only Teefy’s goal to show for all the hard work by halftime. The third quarter — and most of the fourth — featured much of the same, Middle dominating possession but unable to finish inside the circle. That’s been a theme so far early in the season, and something the Panthers say they really need to work on going forward.
“We create so much offensive opportunity, but then we don’t finish,” Perna lamented. “We get it there (inside the circle) but then we don’t capitalize. Against Bishop Eustace, we were there constantly but could not put the ball into the net. And against a team like that, if you give them one chance they’ll go down and score. It was a great experience (playing Eustace), we just need to keep working on finishing.”
Added Brady, “we do some amazing things going up the field, but then we get into the circle and get stuck, so we just have to work on finishing.”
Brady worked on that in a pretty impressive way in the fourth quarter. With about two minutes left and the Panthers clinging to a 1-0 lead, Brady essentially iced the game when she gathered in a rebound and lifted a shot with the back of her stick up over the head of Spirit’s goalie.
“I knew we had to get another goal because winning 1-0 was not going to satisfy me. I reversed it up over the goalie’s head,” Brady said. “This was a big win for us in the conference. This feels great. It’s really getting our motivation back up and getting us ready for the rest of the season.”
The Panthers relied on a solid defensive effort to keep the Spartans off the scoreboard, and that’s going to be this team’s bread-and-butter the rest of the way.
“Our defense is very experienced, they are all upperclassmen and have been starting for years, so they are used to the pressure. They’ve really stepped up when it matters this year,” Perna said. “This is definitely a confidence booster. We got robbed in the conference last year in our players’ minds, losing games that we could have one, and Spirit stole one of those games from us. So our girls are really focused on the next round of conference games. Hopefully this will be a confidence boost and show them that they can win the conference.”
“We’re all like sisters and I think our chemistry is really helping us this year,” Teefy said. “It’s unlike any other year (in my high school career). I think we just really need to work on finishing. We have really good transition, it’s just getting shots into the goal.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Middle Township travels to Bridgeton on Thursday at 4 p.m. Holy Spirit hosts Buena on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on X/Twitter @GDsullysays