MAYS LANDING - Middle Township High School attack players Jack Denis and Thom DeMarco, and goalie Tommy Williams kept the Panthers boys lacrosse team ahead of Oakcrest on Saturday in a key Cape-Atlantic League game.
Those three are a sophomore, a sophomore and a freshman, respectively.
The youthful Panthers put themselves in the driver's seat in the CAL race with a 7-4 victory. Middle went up 4-0 and survived an Oakcrest comeback to pull away in the last quarter. Denis scored three goals, including the final two of the game after the host Falcons closed it to 5-4.
Middle Township, which has never won the league title, improved to 12-1 overall and 10-0 in the CAL. The Panthers are No. 10 in The Press Elite 11. They have four league games remaining. Oakcrest is 9-2 overall and 8-2 CAL. The Falcons' other loss was 7-6 to Middle on April 3.
"The kids played with a little adversity today, because we're dinged up," Middle Township coach Tom Griffin said. "Our defense really played a tight game today. We have a young team, with only four seniors. We'll let them enjoy this, but we have Egg Harbor Township (the defending CAL champion) on Monday (at Middle)."
The Panthers were clinging to a 5-4 lead through most of the fourth quarter, but Denis scored with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left to play, and again at the 2-minute mark.
"It got scary, but we pulled it out," said Denis, 15, of Cape May Court House. " We put one in to seal the deal. We had to pass it around (on offense) to give our defense a breather and make our possessions count.
"If we win out, we'll clinch (the CAL). We've got to take care of our own business."
The Panthers went up 4-0 in the first half on two goals by DeMarco, one by Alex Terenik and one by Denis. Williams, who finished with 19 saves, made six big stops during that run, including three against Oakcrest's Justin Mitchell.
"I was really excited after our third goal. I thought we had it," said DeMarco, a 16-year-old Cape May Court House resident. "We had some turnovers and that made it close. But Jack came up big at the end."
Middle's lead could have gotten bigger, but Oakcrest goalie Nick Verzicco made key saves against Terenik and DeMarco to keep it 4-0.
Oakcrest got back in the game before halftime. The Falcons got on the board as Louis Parks scored from 15 feet away from the left side with 1:40 left in the first half.
Oakcrest's Jon Mitchell cut the lead to 4-2 with a shot from the right that went into the left corner.
The third quarter had no scoring until Parks scored Oakcrest's third goal with 2:04 left, after a pass from Blake Biren.
"We came back because of perseverance and composure," said Oakcrest coach Brett Hoffecker. "The game today was a lot like our first game with Middle. Both teams played strong. We hit the pipe seven times, and that hurts. Middle is well-coached and has great players. They usually score in double digits, but our defense played well."
Middle's Zach Buchanan and Oakcrest's Biren exchanged goals to make it 5-4. That set the stage for Denis' final two goals.
Contact Guy Gargan:
Middle Township 3 1 1 2-7
Home 0 2 1 1-4
Goals-Denis (3), DeMarco (2), Terenik, Buchanan MT. Parks 92), Jon Mitchell, Biren O.
Goalies-Williams (19) MT. Verzicco (12) O.
Records-Middle 12-1; Oakcrest 9-2.