LOWER TOWNSHIP — The Middle Township High School girls lacrosse team was in a fowl mood Monday.
The Panthers relied on the mystical powers of Mallard — a wooden duck that serves as their unofficial mascot — to earn a 16-5 victory over rival Lower Cape May Regional in a battle of unbeaten Cape-Atlantic League rivals.
“Every player has to touch Mallard before the game,” Panthers junior attack Aubrey Hunter said. “It brings us good luck.”
Mallard has been with the Panthers since last season. Middle assistant coach Kate Kelly was getting ready for a yard sale when head coach Tina Prickett spotted the decoy in Kelly’s garage.
The Panthers (8-0) share the duck with the Absegami and Egg Harbor Township girls lacrosse teams, due to a friendship among the coaches of the three teams. Mallard was on Absegami’s sideline when the Braves won their first-ever state tournament match.
“Whenever one of us has a big game coming up, we bring Mallard with us,” Prickett said with a smile. “I’m not superstitious in the least, but the girls like having him around.”
Middle needed it Monday.
Although the Panthers and Caper Tigers play in different CAL conferences, the schools have a rivalry that dates decades and spans every sport. The football teams meet every Thanksgiving morning in the Anchor Bowl.
“It’s a huge rivalry,” Hunter said.
A big crowd lined the opposite sideline at Lower Cape May for the game. It was scheduled to be held at Middle but was switched Monday morning due to poor field conditions at the Panthers’ complex, the result of an overnight storm.
Hunter and fellow attackers Maddie Barber, Libby Bostard and Kira Sides dominated most of the game.
Lower (8-1) double-teamed Sides, who entered with 40 goals on the season and more than 200 for her career. Barber capitalized with five goals. Hunter and Bostard scored four apiece, and Sides had two.
Middle might have enjoyed an even larger of margin of victory if not for Lower senior goalie Melanie Amador. She stood up against Middle’s relentess pressure, not to mention a powerful wind, to make 23 saves.
“I’ve played against them before, so I knew how they liked to shoot, and I tried to be ready for that,” Amador said.
Lower’s only lead came in the game’s first two minutes, when senior Marissa Ginacola scored to put the Caper Tigers ahead 1-0. Middle freshman Brianna Robinson tied it less than a minute later, and Hunter put Middle ahead for good with her first goal with 20 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half.
Lower hung tough for a while. Sabrina Faulkner, one of seven freshmen who played for the Capers Tigers, scored to cut Middle’s lead to 4-3 with 14:43 left. Bostard answered with her second goal to start a 7-0 Middle run that ended the suspense.
Lower also played without standout Maya Critchfield, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the season.
“We’re a young team, so this was a good experience for us,” Lower coach Joann McLaughlin said. “Playing good teams like that will help us when it comes time for the state tournament.”
Middle has a tough contest Wednesday.
The Panthers will play Mainland Regional in a key CAL National Conference game. Middle beat the Mustangs 13-12 in the season opener March 30.
“We’ll definitely have Mallard with us for that one,” Barber said.
Lower Cape May;4 1—5
MT — Barber (5), Hunter (4), Bostard (4), Sides (2), Robinson
L — Raymond (2), Ginacola, Faulkner, Schiffbauer
Records: Middle 8-0; LCM 8-1