By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — The future is arriving for the Ocean City girls lacrosse team, and not a moment too soon for the current senior class.
The Red Raiders got huge performances from freshmen Ashley Devlin and Abbey Fenton, and a breakout game from sophomore Danielle Donoghue, to do something they haven’t been able to do in recent years — get past rival Middle Township. Donoghue had four goals and two assists, Devlin added three goals and Fenton played a tremendous game in goal as Ocean City won, 13-8, and all but wrapped up the Cape-Atlantic League title that has eluded it in years past.
“We wanted this win so badly. We knew we were going to come out strong today,” said Donoghue, who scored all four of her goals in the second half, including two straight that helped Ocean City build a 9-6 lead with 16 minutes to go. “From last year’s game, being a freshman and being nervous and coming out and having a loss, that really energized me to come out with a win in this game. We knew what girls to shut down and we’ve been practicing what to do in transition and with our defense.”
Neither team could get much separation in the first half. Middle opened the scoring early on a goal by Allison Hunter, but Ocean City rallied to take a 2-1 lead on goals by Dara Hennessy and Devlin. The Red Raiders went ahead 4-2 on goals by Emily DiMarino and Devlin, but the Panthers shaved the lead to 4-3 when Maddie Barber scored with 3:38 left.
The teams traded goals throughout much of the early part of the second half, with Middle cutting the deficit to 7-6 when Jenna Herlihy scored off a restart. But that’s when Donoghue began to take over. She netted a goal after taking a hard foul in front of the cage, and less than two minutes later she picked up a loose ball, faked out a pair of defenders, and scored to make it 9-6. Devlin added another goal, as did Hennessy, as Ocean City stretched its lead to 11-6.
“Danielle really put on a show today. Especially within eight meters, she was really ripping shots,” said senior defender Megan Keenan. “She definitely came through today. We all wanted this win today, after last year’s loss, and she knew that. She came in with a great mindset all day. I knew she was going to be into the game today.”
“I knew what I was going to do and if I saw and opening I knew I was going to go (toward the goal), and if I saw an open person I knew to pass the ball,” Donoghue said. “This year, we’re more of a team and can understand each other. We communicate with each other so well.”
Middle tried to mount a comeback, but the Red Raiders got a pair of goals from DiMarino in the final seven minutes to seal the victory.
Ocean City’s defense, led by Keenan, Fenton, Britney Stein and Hailey Stack, held one of South Jersey’s highest scoring offenses in check throughout much of the game.
“We knew that their defense was nothing compared to our defense, and that we could take anything they were going to throw our way. We’ve had great competition all season and have been playing harder teams as the season has gone on, so we were ready. We knew we needed to pressure, but if we needed help with a slide we are really good at communicating that,” Keenan said. “We remember the past three years of them taking us down. This was the last chance for the seniors to take it, and we did.”
“It’s so nice to finish off the season this way. Coming to Ocean City, (winning) is what you look forward to and what you’re expected to do. Today was what we expected to happen because we’ve been preparing for this. It hasn’t gone our way the past three years, but today it did,” said senior Nicholl Fenton, Abbey’s sister. “We were thinking about (last year’s loss), but we have a great group of seniors and underclassmen. Everyone was in the right mindset today, which helped.”
Nicholl Fenton said she was glad her kid sister was able to hold her own during a pressure-packed game with a lot on the line.
“I think I was more nervous for her than I was for me,” Nicholl said. “We’ve never played a sport together before, and it’s just so nice. We’ve become so close, and I love seeing her excel. It’s been great, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN