By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — Last season, the Ocean City girls soccer team lost to rival Mainland Regional three times, including a penalty kick shootout defeat in the inaugural Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship game.
On Thursday afternoon, the Red Raiders returned the favor in a big way.
Host Ocean City was limited to just one goal in the first half by a Mainland team the Red Raiders had outscored 10-0 in two regular-season victories, but in the second half Ocean City exploded for five goals to run away with a 6-0 victory and earn a berth in the Group 3 semifinals on Tuesday night in Toms River. The title is the third in Ocean City program history, as the Red Raiders won in 2001 and 2017.
Junior Faith Slimmer was unstoppable once she got going, finishing with three goals and two assists, and sophomore striker Summer Reimet added a goal and an assist.
“We’ve been ready for this game for so long. We’ve been preparing for it since preseason and we just wanted it that much more after losing to Mainland three times last year. We came out strong, played our game and got the win. (Not scoring early) always makes it a little nerve-wracking, but we just had to play as a team and we knew we could get it done. We just had to get that first goal and that gave us some momentum. We’re such a good team all around — it’s not just one individual player — which is good for us. We work off each other so well, which is hard to find on a lot of other teams,” said Slimmer, a Rutgers University commit. “It doesn’t have to be all on me because we have so many good players on this team. The talent is spread around so evenly and that helps us play well.”
Mainland (15-7) — which was making its first sectional championship appearance in program history — had the wind at its back in the opening half and kicked the ball long in an effort to make Ocean City (22-2) expend energy bringing the ball all the way back up the field, and the strategy was working well for the first 30 minutes. But senior midfielder and captain Carly Reighard ripped a shot from about 30 yards out that tipped off the outstretched glove of Mustangs keeper Katie Bretones and gave the Red Raiders a 1-0 lead with a little less than 12 minutes to go before halftime.
With the wind advantage in the second half the Red Raiders got to work quickly, as Reimet played a ball through to Slimmer, who finished into the lower left corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the second half. Less than five minutes later the lead reached 3-0 when Slimmer made a run up the middle and dished off to Reimet, who tucked a shot inside the far post.
“It’s really fun to be able to watch these girls. I haven’t really gotten a lot of action the past couple of games, so to be able to watch them, their passing, the transition and the way they shoot the ball, it’s pretty amazing. This team is a really talented and from the start it’s been our goal to get back here and to win it,” said senior goalie Abbey Fenton, who only had to make a couple of saves to record the clean sheet, her 17th of the season and fourth straight in the postseason. “I have to stay focused at all times because you never know, even in a game like this, Mainland fought right to the end so you never know when they might get a shot off. But our defense has played so great that I haven’t really had to do a whole lot. Even against really good teams they play great. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Ocean City tacked on a couple more goals in the final 26 minutes, as Slimmer drilled a direct kick off the crossbar that was cleaned up and finished by younger sister Hope with 25:13 remaining, and with less than two minutes remaining, Faith capped off her hat trick by driving home a direct kick from about 30 yards out.
“It’s always great to experience this, it’s like no other feeling,” Faith Slimmer said. “It makes me happy that we were able to get this win again after winning it my freshman year, now some of these freshmen can experience it, too. It’s nice to be able to continue playing with this team because we work so well together. None of us want it to end. It’s really exciting. We all want to be here.
“This is such a great experience. Last year we wanted to get back here but weren’t able to, so we made it our goal since June to get back here. We wanted everyone to be able to experience what it’s like to win this. They beat us three times last year and we ended up beating them three times this year, so it was good to get back at them. They had a great season so it feels really good to be able to beat them three times,” added Fenton. “We’re going to use the momentum from this game to push us into the state semifinal. We’re just going to go and try to make some noise. There’s really no expectations — we want to make it to the state championship game if we can, so we’ll just go up there, play as hard as we can and hopefully we’ll come out with the win.”
What’s next: Mainland’s season is complete. Ocean City advances to play Central Jersey Group 3 champion Hopewell Valley, a 4-2 winner over Allentown, on Tuesday at Toms River North High School in the Group 3 semifinals, time TBA.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays