CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - The first 20 minutes proved to be the difference as third-seeded Middle Township High School fell 2-0 to No. 7 seed Cinnaminson in a South Jersey Group II boys soccer semifinal on Thursday.
"They came out pretty quick," Middle Township coach John Maher said. "I think that they had that in mind because I watched them play Woodstown (in the quarterfinals) and they came out pretty slow."
In the 19th minute, Cinnaminson (11-8-1) won a call at midfield for a free kick. A Pirate defender sent a long ball to the far post where Mark Staudenmayer was waiting unguarded. He flicked the ball back toward the goal with his head to Steven Kalbach, who headed it in.
"It wasn't a characteristic goal that we normally give up," Maher said. "Neither one was. We usually do well clearing the ball out with the first defender. When you let the ball move around like that, it's going to get finished."
Middle, the No. 9 team in The Press Elite 11, orchestrated their best offensive opportunity of the half with 15 minutes to play. Junior Alijah Broadnax stole a ball from a Cinnaminson defender and took it toward the middle of the field before crossing it to senior Jacob Cowan on the right side. Cowan sent a cross to the top of the box and junior Jarred Casper ripped a shot, but Cinnaminson goalie Luke Garvey made a diving save. No one from Middle was there to collect the rebound.
On another restart, Chris Weist sent a ball across the box, and senior Kevin Sotell put a head on it to make it 2-0 with 10 minutes left in the half.
A change in the defense to start the second half gave Middle a chance to start attacking more freely. Maher moved junior Zach Buchanan to sweeper and played with three men back, instead of four. Meanwhile, Tanner Kerr, a junior transfer from Moores-town, took over goalie duties, as usual. Kerr made five saves, including stopping Sotell on a break away. He also avoided a 3-0 Cinnaminson lead, when Staudenmayer got his head on the ball again, but it hit the top post.
"I have to be real pleased about our defense," Maher said. "We held our own after a couple mistakes and I think Tanner played a great second half.
Cinnaminson also made a coaching change. Center midfielder Michael Ochman spent the first half guarding Cowan - Middle's leading scorer (28). Pirates coach Jason Meile put three defenders on Cowan in the second half. Despite the loss, Cowan was proud of his senior season overall.
"It was just a great season," he said. "I love playing with these guys. I grew up playing with them, and I couldn't ask for a better group of kids to play with."
Middle was going for its third sectional final appearance in program history. The Panthers have only one title, which came in 2008 against Cinnaminson.
"I had a kid come in from that team and talk to the guys for a little motivation," first- year coach and eight-year assistant Meile said. "It's something we've definitely talked about and we wanted to get a little revenge here. So it was nice."
Maher puts this year's team right up there with the team from 2008, which set the record for most wins in a season (20).
"We had a great year," he said. "I think we represented the Cape-Atlantic League well and those 17 wins are right up there with some of the best years we've had. I'm pretty pleased."
Contact Kelly Ashe:
Cinnaminson 2 0-2
Middle Township 0 0-0
Goals-Kalbach, Sotell C.
Goalies-Garvey (6) C; Hand (3), Kerr (8) MT.
Records-Cinnaminson 11-8-1, Middle 17-4.