By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

ABSECON — The Holy Spirit girls lacrosse team had never played for any kind of championship in its seven-year existence prior to this season. Heck, the Spartans finished above .500 only once during that span.

So when the Cape-Atlantic League announced it was starting up a league tournament this season featuring the top four teams, the Spartans saw 2022 as an opportunity to make a statement. The statement they made on a gloomy Friday afternoon at Ed Byrnes Stadium is that they should be taken seriously.

Holy Spirit, the No. 1 seed, was leading No. 4 Egg Harbor Township 7-5 early in the second half when the Spartans turned on the afterburners, went on a 7-1 run and raced to a dominating 18-8 victory that puts them into Monday’s championship game at Stockton University against No. 2 Ocean City. The Holy Spirit boys, also the No. 1 seed, were equally impressive, dispatching No. 4 EHT, 14-4, in their semifinal matchup. Spirit will take on No. 2 Ocean City, a 14-1 winner over No. 3 Lower Cape May.

Egg Harbor Township’s Emily Gargan battles for possession with several Holy Spirit defenders. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“This is awesome. Ever since I’ve been here, this is all I’ve wanted to do (is play for a championship). We haven’t been able to, but now that we have the opportunity, this feeling is great. I never would have expected (to have a CAL Tournament), but here we are. It’s crazy,” said Holy Spirit senior captain Maggie Cella, who scored three goals and added three assists. “Staying relaxed on offense was a big part of this game. Our defense played great. It was a great effort by our whole team.”

Earning a berth in the finals is extra special for Holy Spirit junior captain Maddie Abbott, whose freshman year was wiped out due to covid and she also missed her sophomore year due to injury. She scored four goals on Friday afternoon.

“This is absolutely insane,” she said. “We work so hard at practice. We’ve worked so hard for this, and to have this opportunity to play in a championship is insane. I can say from experience — I didn’t have a season last year because I was hurt — so coming back, being able to play and coming this far, is insane. I honestly didn’t think we would be here. Our team has never made it to something like this, and to be this good is great.”

Holy Spirit (13-4, 9-1 Cape-Atlantic League National) dominated much of the first half and jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a pair of goals by Brielle Soltys and another from Cella, but EHT (8-7, 7-3 CAL American) hung around, cutting the deficit to 4-2 when Emily Gargan capped off a long Eagles offensive possession with a goal with 7:34 left before halftime.

Junior captain Maddie Abbot scored four goals to help lead the Spartans into the league championship game. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Spirit then sprinted ahead, 6-2, but the Eagles stayed within striking distance, cutting the gap to 7-4 with a goal from Taylor Lear just six seconds before halftime. EHT got within 7-5 less than two minutes into the second half when Anna Smith fed Angelina Petracci for a goal, but then Holy Spirit took commanding, scoring seven of the game’s next eight goals to build a 14-6 led with a little more than 10 minutes to go.

Soltys finished with a game-high five goals, Hannah Watson added three goals and five assists, and Leah Corkhill chipped in two goals and an assist for Holy Spirit. Gargan led the way for EHT, scoring five of the Eagles’ eight goals, while Smith tallied three assists. EHT was playing without injured star Hayley Henderson, who leads the team with 60 goals and 23 assists this season.

“They are a good team. When we heard (Henderson) was out, that didn’t faze us at all, we knew we still had to work as hard as we could to beat them,” Cella said. “A big part of this game was taking control. At halftime we had a talk where we said we wanted to be in control of this game. We wanted to pass the ball around more and stay calm, and it worked out for us.”

Added Abbott, “we have built from nothing to being a great program. We’re winning games by 10 goals, and we’re going to keep building from here. I am so excited (for Monday). I think if we work hard enough, play our game and play like we did today, we definitely have a chance (against Ocean City).”

No. 2 Ocean City 16, No. 3 Lower Cape May 8: The second-seeded Red Raiders cruised past the Caper Tigers, improving to 13-3 in the process. Ocean City put 10 players on the scoreboard with either a goal or an assist, with Delainey Sutley leading the way with three goals. Breanna Fabi, Ally Leeds, Gracie Pierce, Racheli Levy-Smith and Olivia Vanesko each tallied two goals. Sabrina Faulkner led the way for Lower with four goals.

BOYS CAL SEMIFINALS

No. 1 Holy Spirit 14, No. 4 Egg Harbor Township 4: The Spartans were in control of this one from the start, racking up six goals in the first quarter to take a 6-0 lead. The Spartans, who improved to 11-2, got seven goals from Stanley Marczyk, three from Anthony Hermenau and a pair from Joseph Reitzler.

No. 2 Ocean City 14, No. 3 Lower Cape May 1: The Red Raiders jumped out early to a 5-1 lead and never looked back, getting six goals from Pat Grimley — who also reached 100 goals in his career. Tommy Schutta added two goals and three assists and Ori Levy-Smith chipped in a pair of goals.

What’s next: The Holy Spirit and Ocean City girls and boys will play a CAL Tournament championship doubleheader on Monday at Stockton University, times TBD.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays