Staff Writer

LINWOOD — The Mainland Regional vs. Ocean City rivalry has been going on for decades, dividing families and testing friendships. Another chapter will be written next week as both schools’ girls soccer teams won on Thursday to advance to the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship game (Monday, 4 p.m. at Carey Stadium in Ocean City) for the second straight year.

Top-seeded Ocean City rolled past No. 5 Cedar Creek, 5-0, while Mainland used a late goal from junior Jane Meade to finally put down Middle Township in a 2-0 Mustangs victory.

The visiting Panthers were coming at the Mainland defense in waves throughout the second half, but couldn’t get anything past junior keeper Genevieve Morrison, who is one of the best girls soccer goalies in the state.

Emma Karver, left, and the Mainland Mustangs are headed back to the Cape-Atlantic League championship game after beating Middle Township 2-0. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“They were coming at us (in the second half). I think we got away too early of just trying to clear it rather than trying to keep possession — or at least mixing that up. But they were quicker to the ball at times, and they were sending more numbers. With more people up that opened up more holes in our defense. I didn’t want to make a move too early, but then I sent some more numbers back to try to help the defense. In the last 10 minutes or so we got back to controlling the midfield a little better,” said Mainland coach Chris Meade, Jane’s father. “If you rest on your laurels, you’re in trouble, so we talked about  getting after it (in the second half) but I don’t know that we did. I thought scoring two goals in the first half would have been better. We were so close a couple of times.”

Second-seeded Mainland (10-3-1, 9-1-1 Cape-Atlantic League American) got an early goal from freshman Savannah Jones, who scored off an assist from Hannah Cipkins off a throw-in, and the Stangs had several very good chances later in the first half but couldn’t convert.

“It was definitely special for me because not many people get to play (varsity) their freshman year,” Jones said.

Early in the second half, Middle’s best chance came after a turnover deep in Mainland territory. Morrison was faced with a point-blank shot from about 12 yards and made a leaping save to punch the ball over the crossbar.

Mainland junior Jane Meade and freshman Savannah Jones talk about the win over Middle.

Coach Meade said it’s a huge advantage having a goalie like Morrison. She has 83 saves this season and during Mainland’s current 9-game winning streak she has not allowed a single goal.  

“Not only is our back line playing well, but they know who they have behind them and that gives them an air of confidence to maybe be a little more aggressive than normal,” coach Meade explained. “Because of that we’re able to step to balls and close space a little quicker than maybe what or speed is, because the timing is better. That’s been to our benefit to know who we have (in goal) so we can play with confidence and be aggressive.”

Still, with just a one-goal lead in a league tournament semifinal, anything can happen. Mainland needed some kind of offensive spark to put third-seeded Middle Township (11-3, 7-0 CAL National) away, and they got it with a little more than two minutes remaining. Freshman Maddie Taylor fed a ball through to Meade in the center of the field, and Meade did the rest, working past two Middle Township defenders and depositing a goal into the lower left corner to push the lead to 2-0 and effectively ice the game.

Jane Meade’s tally with less than three minutes to go put the finishing touches on Mainland’s win. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“In the second half we just talked about playing behind the ball and keeping it in their half as much as we can. Maddie Taylor, a freshman, played me the ball and I did as much as I could to bust through the defense, and I shot it low and to the corner,” Jane Meade said. “We knew this team was a great team and their record is great. We talked about at halftime just staying calm, trying to keep possession as much as we can and letting less shots from them, even out wide, or trying to get through balls. We wanted to cut all that off as much as possible.”

Last year, Mainland lost 2-0 to Ocean City in the CAL final, but returned the favor a few weeks later by beating the Red Raiders on penalty kicks in the sectional semifinals.

“We’re all super excited. We’re all going to be pumped — just like we were for this game,” Jane Meade said. “I think we’re going to come out strong, like we always do, and do the best we can. (We need) what we showed today. We showed heart today, and hustle, and I think that’s exactly what we need to do on Monday.”

Added coach Meade, “the girls are smart enough to know who is on each team. We knew what we were up against (Thursday). You can flip a coin sometimes to see who wins these games. We proved last year that we can handle ourselves (in Ocean City). I think if we play well, and they play well, it will be an even game. And I think Ocean City would say the same. It’s going to come down to the little things, and that’s why attention to detail is something we stress all the time.”

What’s next: Mainland travels to Ocean City on Monday at 4 p.m. for the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship game at Carey Stadium.