By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — When you beat just about every team you play against for the better part of three seasons it’s a little difficult to pull out the revenge card to use as motivation for a big game.
But Monday afternoon provided a rare opportunity for the Ocean City girls soccer team to get a little payback against bitter rival Mainland Regional, and saying the Red Raiders were up to the task might be a gross understatement.
Ocean City dominated from start to finish, putting a pair into the back of the net in the first half and cruising to a 2-0 win over the Mustangs in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship game at Carey Stadium. The title was Ocean City’s second in the three-year history of the event (it wasn’t held in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic). In the boys final, wildcard and No. 4 seed Egg Harbor Township rallied from a 2-1 deficit to beat Hammonton, 3-2, and capture the Eagles’ first CAL Tournament title.
Ocean City (14-1, No. 2 in New Jersey according to nj.com) was smarting from last week’s 1-0, double-overtime loss at the hands of Mainland — a loss that ended a 45-game unbeaten streak for the Red Raiders that stretched back to Sept. 16, 2019 when they fell to Rancocas Valley early on in their state championship season. Last fall, Ocean City went 11-0-1 and this year the Raiders got off to an 11-0 start before Mainland (11-3-1) ruined their chance for a perfect season.
“We came out here and the goal was just winning. Every time we play them we know it’s going to be a tough game, and I feel like that loss really showed us you have to come out and play tough every time, you have to be strong. And this just shows how tough and strong we are,” said senior stopper and captain Kasey McDonnell. “We’re just going to keep coming after you. That loss was stuck in our head. Even (in the semifinals) when we were playing against Millville, we knew we’d be playing them. After the game we said, ‘we’re playing Mainland and we’re going to beat them.’ That was the only goal in our head.”
“I was saying earlier that it’s good that the loss against Mainland happened at that time because we could learn from our mistakes in all the games coming after that,” added fellow senior captain Summer Reimet, A Monmouth University commit who scored the game’s second goal, and who leads New Jersey in scoring this season.
With a strong wind at their back in the first half the Red Raiders got to work pressuring Mainland’s back line and goalkeeper Genevieve Morrison. Morrison made a big save on a shot from 12 yards out by Naomi Nnewehi in the third minute, but not long after Ocean City struck off a set piece. Hope Slimmer sent in a corner kick from the right side that was headed by McKenna Chisholm. That shot was initially saved, but McDonnell knocked home the rebound for her first goal of the season. That tally came in the 11th minute.
“I didn’t even see it go in. It hit me, I turned and looked and it was going past the keeper and I was like, ‘oh, my God, that was me!’ I’m always up there for a corner — it happened last year against Mainland, too — it’s just great being up there, but scoring is even better,” McDonnell said. “Once we scored that one goal we relaxed a little bit, our passes got sharper and we were supporting each other more and were more vocal, and that really got us uplifted.”
With a 1-0 lead in hand and the wind at their backs, the Raiders worked the ball through Slimmer in the midfield and up top to Reimet, who recently became the program’s all-time leading scorer with more than 100 goals, breaking the mark set last year by 2021 graduate Faith Slimmer, now a freshman at the University of Charleston. Mainland did what it could to slow her down, but it’s hard to keep a talent like that off the score sheet. In fact, the Stangs are the only team to have held Reimet — who has 46 goals this year — scoreless, in their 1-0 win on Oct. 12.
With 11:09 left in the first half, Reimet collected a loose ball around the 18-yard line, spun and drilled a shot into the lower left corner past a diving Morrison (8 saves) to give Ocean City a 2-0 lead.
“It’s crazy what she does, she fights so hard up top,” McDonnell said. “The two of them (Faith Slimmer and Reimet) worked so well together last year and now with Faith gone, we were like, ‘Summer, you’ve got this. It’s your time to shine.’ She’s really stepped up and she just said nobody is going to stop her.”
“It felt great. I wasn’t able to get many chances last game because (Millville) had a lot of players behind the ball, so it felt great to get a chance and finish it. If you shoot, there’s a chance it will go in, so you might as well take the shot when you get it,” Reimet said. “We won the coin toss, but you never know when the wind is going to chance here so you can’t look into the future and say we’ll get goals in the second half. It’s important to get goals in the first half and see where it goes.”
Where it went was exactly where the Red Raiders wanted things to go — with them using their superior foot and passing skills to basically play “keep away” from Mainland for much of the second half. Ocean City goalie Tori Vliet was forced to make just five saves in 80 minutes. Now, Ocean City turns its attention to the rest of the regular-season schedule, the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association tournament and, in November, the state playoffs. There were no traditional state playoffs last year because of the pandemic, so technically Ocean City still is the defending Group 3 state champion from its 2019 campaign.
“I’m excited that we will have the chance to play for a state championship this year, and hopefully I’ll get to end my senior year on a win and with a trophy,” Reimet said. “You have to start somewhere and this is a great start.”
What’s next: Ocean City hosts Middle Township on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Mainland hosts Hammonton on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays