By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MAYS LANDING — During Kelly Halliday’s first two years as coach of the Ocean City girls soccer program, the Red Raiders won 26 games and a pair of Cape-Atlantic League American Conference championships. Two years later — and after a 6-10-2 season a year ago — Ocean City figures it will see how it feels to win a CAL National title.
The Red Raiders took one step closer to doing just that on Wednesday afternoon when they traveled to Oakcrest and scored a 2-1 victory that kept them atop the standings. Oakcrest had a chance to tie Ocean City for the CAL National lead with a win, but came out flat and was playing from behind almost from the start.
Ocean City (8-4, 5-1) got an early goal from Tori Rolls and another first-half tally from Natalie Stinson, and goalie Tanis McDonnell made the lead stand up despite a late goal from Oakcrest’s Jana White. McDonnell finished with seven saves while her counterpart, Brielle Smith, one of the top goalies in the conference, racked up 11 saves.
“We’ve had a pretty good season so far — much better than last season. I think this is a really good win for us because we already beat Oakcrest at our home field, so we were really focused on getting another win. It felt nice, because now we have a secure lead on top,” McDonnell said. “Brielle is amazing in their net. It’s always a struggle to try to get one in on them. They have a lot of talented players, we were just focused on trying to get a defender on (each player) and trying to figure them out.”
Ocean City came out with a lot of energy on offense, and early on Kasey Yunghans played a ball through to a wide-open Tori Rolls. Faced with a one-on-one situation, Smith didn’t have much of a chance, and Rolls buried a shot into the lower left corner to put the Red Raiders up, 1-0. Later in the first half, a collision in front of the net between Smith and Sadie Ford sent a loose ball to the left, and Stinson was there to clean it up, poking a shot into a wide-open net to push the lead to 2-0.
Oakcrest (5-4, 3-3) had a golden opportunity to cut the deficit in half early in the second half, but McDonnell came up with a great save on a penalty kick. She went left and made an unconventional kick save to keep the ball out of the net.
“I was very stressed, but I knew that since we had a 2-0 lead on them that if I didn’t make the save we still had a cushion. I was really just focused on saving it. I, more or less, try to read how the player is approaching the ball. You can tell by the way their stance is which way they are going to go. I know a lot of goalies pick their strongest side to dive to, but I just try to read the player,” McDonnell said. “I have more of a knack with my legs since I’m a field player with my club team, so I feel like I can get a longer reach with my legs than my arms. But, it’s more of just a reaction.”
Oakcrest showed more life in the second half, but Ocean City’s defense was up to the task, continually thwarting runs by Gabi Johnson, Cayla Wyatt and White. Finally, with less than five minutes to go, Johnson made a run and dished a pass off to White on the left side, and White finished to shave the lead to 2-1. Oakcrest had another chance with less than two minutes to go, but a shot by White went just wide to the right.
Ocean City will look to get some separation in the CAL National on Friday when it travels to Middle Township to take on the Panthers, who came into Wednesday’s action trailing the Red Raiders by just one game in the conference standings.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN