By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — A barbell with three 45-pound plates on each side probably would have felt light to sophomore Delaney Lappin as she stood 12 yards in front of the goal on Thursday afternoon on her home field. She carried the weight of not only her coaches’ and teammates’ hopes, but those of a fan base and a soccer program.
Lappin was the final field player up in the last of five rounds of a penalty kick shootout, which was tied, 1-1. Miss the kick, and the game goes to alternating PKs until a winner is determined. Make it, and you’re an instant hero.
Lappin calmly drilled a left-footed shot into the lower left corner, past a diving Madeline Sweeney, to lift Ocean City to a 2-1 win over Cherry Hill West in the shootout — and the Red Raiders’ first South Jersey Group 3 championship since 2000. Lappin was mobbed by her teammates at the 25-yard line, and the celebration lasted well after the Lions had left Carey Stadium.
“I just had to stay confident and shoot the ball into the back of the net. I didn’t really have a plan, I just kind of shot the ball. I looked right, but then I went left to try to fake her out a little bit,” Lappin said. “There are so many emotions going through my mind. I’m so happy, all this hard work we’ve put in. We all just dog-piled on top of each other, and it’s an amazing feeling. We weren’t going to come all this way and lose. We just tried to stay composed and play together, and have each other’s backs.”
“After they missed, I had all the confidence that Delaney was going to put one away. Delaney was actually one who didn’t really want to take it, but I know when the game is on the line she’s going to put the ball into the back of the net, and she did,” said Ocean City sophomore goalie Abbey Fenton, who now has a South Jersey title of her own after watching older sister Nicholl win four in a row with the field hockey team. “It feels great. She’s having a really good freshman year at college, but just to have one of my own — and it’s been a while for the soccer team — it feels great. It was so nerve-wracking. We practiced (PKs) leading up to the playoffs because you never know when a game is going to come down to that. Mentally, I just had to stay focused. Coach Halliday told me to just get one save. I got one, and they missed a couple shots. Once I got that one save, I kind of settled in, but it’s still nerve-wracking.”
It was a rough-and-tumble 80 minutes of regulation, as both defenses rose to the occasion and each offense had opportunities to convert, but couldn’t. Both top-seeded Ocean City (20-3) and No. 10 Cherry Hill West (9-7-6) were physically drained throughout the two overtime periods. After three rounds of the PK shootout, the teams were knotted at 1-1 as each keeper made a save and each team hit the post. The next three kicks went either off the post or the crossbar, leaving the Red Raiders’ fate on Lappin’s left foot.
“Everyone kept missing, I was so nervous. It was very suspenseful,” said Ocean City midfielder Carly Reighard. “I was so happy when Delaney made it, I’m so proud of her.”
“I would take Abbey Fenton on my team any day. I told her, ‘you’re made for this.’ I know a couple hit the post, but she saved one and that’s big time. We practice PKs, but I don’t think any player or coach wants to see them. But, that’s the game of soccer,” Halliday said. “At this stage of the game, everybody is good, but Cherry Hill West was a true Cinderella story as the 10th seed. I know they play in a tough conference, so that prepares them for these types of games. They did their homework and I knew it was going to be tough to get a goal. We almost snuck one in at the beginning of the game but their keeper made an acrobatic save. Give them credit, they played good defense. I thought it was a battle of the defenses today.”
“They were a good team. We didn’t underestimate them,” Fenton added. “We played a hard, 80-minute game and then overtime and nobody could score. Obviously, we didn’t want to go to penalty kicks, but we had to.”
The Red Raiders will face Central Jersey Group 3 champion Allentown next week in the Group 3 semifinals, with the winner advancing to the state championship game. It’s quite a feat for an Ocean City team that has dealt with injuries all year. Lappin missed the sectional semifinals and Tori Rolls — the team’s leading scorer from a year ago — missed the entire season with a broken collar bone.
“We’ve worked so hard for this. I knew they were the 10th seed, but we’ve worked so hard for this. We definitely deserve this. We put in all the effort that we could (in overtime),” Reighard said. “Last year, we didn’t do as well, but this year we’ve really pulled through and worked together. We’ve worked together as a team and built off each other.”
“We started off with a bang, and I knew we were a special team. With Tori going down, I knew that was a huge loss for our team. But we’ve overcome a lot and I’m so blessed to be coaching this team. They deserved to be in the final. Did I want it to end like that? No, but I’m not surprised because this team steps up,” Halliday said. “This is awesome. I’m so proud. This was our goal back in August.”
Added Fenton, “This is awesome. We were in the gym the other day looking up at the banners, and there’s only one year up there. We’ve been working since the summer to do this, and to finally be able to do it and bring that trophy back here is great. It feels good to have one. I was at the bottom of the pile, but just to be there in that moment, nothing else matters. As a team, we’ve been working for this, and at the end that’s what we wanted, a great celebration. We deserve this.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullsays