CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The personnel of Middle Township High School’s top three offensive girls lacrosse players may be different, but the results are still the same.

Third-seeded Middle, led by an outstanding cast of sophomores, cruised to a 21-10 win over No. 6 Lower Cape May Regional in a South Jersey Group II semifinal game Thursday. The Panthers, ranked 11th in The Press Elite 11, set up a semifinal matchup against second-seeded Camden Catholic, ranked seventh, to be played by Monday.

The defending champions look less like the rebuilding team they were thought to be at the start of the season and more like the contenders they’ve been in years past.

That’s because sophomores Kira Sides, Maddie Barber and Aubrey Hunter have stepped up as one of the most dangerous trios in South Jersey.

Sides had eight goals and four assists Thursday. Barber scored four goals with nine assists and Hunter added three goals and an assist.

“We definitely have been putting in more work than any other team,” said Sides, 16, of Cape May Court House. “We have 6 a.m. practices before school. We’ve been putting in a lot of work.”

The trio managed to fill the rather large shoes left by 2017 graduates Bridget Ruskey and Allison Hunter, both recently wrapping up freshmen seasons at NCAA

La Salle University, and three-sport star Jenna Herlihy. Ruskey is New Jersey’s all-time goal scoring leader while Hunter, Aubrey’s older sister, owns the state’s assist record.

Sides leads the state with 126 goals, and Barber leads with 106 assists.

“We played the same way last year,” said Barber, 16, of Dennis Township, “but this year we’ve stepped up our game, because we know we did have the seniors and were kind of in the shadows a little bit. We knew this was our time to shine, and we’re taking advantage of every second we get.

Lower and Middle traded the lead a few times in the opening 12 minutes of play. With the scored tied 3-3, Hunter’s first goal gave Middle the lead for good. It continued a 6-1 run that gave the Panthers a commanding 8-4 lead.

With the score 10-6 at the half in favor of Middle, the Panthers built a 15-6 lead and controlled the rest of the play. Lower’s Maya Critchfield managed to keep the game close at one point, scoring four of her five goals in the second half.

“We’re still very young,” Lower coach JoAnn McLoughlin said. “Their three — Maddie, Kira and Hunter — are intense. They’re hard to stop no matter what you do.”

Middle also has blended its talent with a little bit of luck.

After the game, the team celebrated with their “Good Luck Duck,” a small wooden figurine one of the coaches purchased at a yard sale recently. The Panthers have shared the superstition with fellow Cape-Atlantic League schools Egg Harbor Township and Absegami. The Braves had the duck on hand Tuesday when they won the first playoff game in program history.

“It’s bringing back the fun of high school sports,” Prickett said, “and all of the coaches get along, and it really creates a positive environment for high school lacrosse.”

Contact: 609-272-7210 JRusso@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPress_Russo

Lower Cape May 6 4—10

Middle Township 10 11—21

Goals—Sides (8), Barber (4), Hunter (3), L. Bostard (2), C. Bostard (2), Hirsch, Gombar MT. Critchfield (5), Durbin (2), Jones (2), Giancola LCM.

Goalies—Amador (16) LCM. Slavin (3), Hand (5) MT.

Records—LCM 10-9, MT 15-4.

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Contact: 609-272-7210

​JRusso@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPress_Russo

I graduated from Rowan University in 2011 where I studied journalism. I covered local high school and college sports at the South Jersey Times and Vineland Daily Journal. I have been a sports reporter with The Press since July of 2013

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