Middle Township’s Steve Berrodin tries to create space for himself between a pair of Cedar Creek defenders in the second half.
By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – A season that began with so much promise ended with so much heartache.
The Middle Township High School boys soccer team won the first 14 games of its season and was considered to be one of the top teams in South Jersey.
But over the team’s final four games, a run of extraordinarily bad luck has brought the Panthers’ season to a shocking end.
The latest result was a frustrating defeat in penalty kicks to Cedar Creek in the first round of the South Jersey Group II Tournament on Thursday. After a scoreless draw through regulation and two periods of extra time, the 12th-seeded Pirates converted all of their kicks in scoring a 5-3 advantage in the penalty shootout to advance in the tournament.
The result officially goes down as a draw, but that is no consolation to a fifth-seeded Middle team (14-3-1) whose season has come to an abrupt end at such an early stage.
The defeat followed a recent trend that saw Middle play well enough to win, only to not earn the result. But a failure to generate much quality in the final third despite dominating play in the second half and both periods of extra time ultimately proved fatal for the Panthers against a Cedar Creek side that was about as organized defensively as it gets at the high school level. The Pirates’ back four played an extremely high line that was responsible for numerous offside infractions by the Panthers, particularly when they played the ball out wide. And, when Middle attempted to be more direct by playing through balls in the center of the field, Cedar Creek goalkeeper Kyle O’Connor aggressively came off his line to handle or clear all of those dangerous balls.
Josh DiFilippo, who missed the target on a penalty kick in the first half, sealed Cedar Creek’s victory when he converted his team’s final attempt in the penalty shootout. Middle goalkeeper Devon Bock got a piece of the shot but the ball still managed to trickle across the line as the Pirates celebrated.
O’Connor, who was the star of the game, had stopped Middle’s first attempt of the shootout to put his team in prime position to go through.
Bock posted his 11th shutout of the season in the contest.
Middle previously lost three straight games in extra time. The first was to Cherry West in the first round of the South Jersey Coach Cup, followed by a match against Pt. Pleasant Boro in a high-level non-league contest. Then, late last week, the Panthers lost again in extra time to Hammonton in a Cape-Atlantic League playoff semifinal game.
For the first time in a few years, Middle will suffer big losses through graduation. Thursday was the final high school game for Bock and fellow starters Steve Berrodin, Matt Sgrignioli, Chase McCray, Will Casterline, Landon Osmundsen, Jason Campbell and Vinny Povio.
There are, however, a handful of other starters returning and some talented young players ready to step forward in a program that featured approximately 50 players total this season.
It’ll be a long wait until next season, though, particularly after the manner in which this one finished.
Middle Township’s Vinny Povio looks to cross the ball into the penalty area as a Cedar Creek player defends.
Middle Township’s Matt Sgrignioli seals off a Cedar Creek player as he waits for a pass to arrive from a teammate.
Middle Township’s Chase McCray looks to distribute to a teammate from his center back position.
Middle Township’s Tommy Shagren pushes the ball forward in transition as two Cedar Creek players give chase.