OCEAN CITY — The Toms River East girls soccer team got rocked by a big right uppercut to the jaw when Ocean City's Delaney Lappin scored just eight seconds into the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals at Carey Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
Lappin took a pass from Faith Slimmer off the kickoff and ripped a laser from about 40 yards into the upper right corner of the net to give the host Red Raiders a 1-0 lead. East was knocked down, but not out, as the Raiders played gritty soccer for the next 99 minutes, 52 seconds to forge a 1-1 tie and take the game into a penalty kick shootout.
But midnight struck early for the Cinderella Raiders, who came in as the No. 13 seed looking for a second straight upset after knocking off No. 4 GCIT in the opening round. East's final kick in the PK shootout sailed high, allowing No. 5 Ocean City to escape with a 4-3 edge. The Red Raiders advance to face either No. 1 Moorestown or No. 9 Cherry Hill West in the sectional semifinals next week.
Ocean City — which misfired on three attempts during its PK shootout loss to Mainland in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship game in late October — converted on four of its five kicks while East fired one wide left and the last one high.
"We did it in practice two days ago and we were like, 'let's just try it.' I made it in practice, so they were like, 'let's do it,' and I put it in," Lappin said of her strike off the opening play.
The game was mostly played in the midfield, with each team picking its spots to make runs at goal. East knotted the game, 1-1, with a little more than 14 minutes left in regulation off a counterattack. Ocean City's Tori Rolls got her foot on a long ball in but East goalie Jackie Keogh made a save, and the Raiders (5-8-4) jumped on the outlet and got a run going of their own. Kamryn Lister finished it off, running under a long pass and beating Red Raiders keeper Abbey Fenton in a one-on-one situation.
"I think we just weren't communicating but at halftime we talked about it, then picked it up a little bit. We were just miscommunicating, but we eventually started talking and got it together," Lappin said. "(After they scored) we just had to stay calm, keep our marks, just mark up and stay composed. I think we did (get a little too confident). The first half, we were a little too comfortable, and in the second half we let them through a little bit, but at the end we finished it."
"The whole game, we were just saying we can't make any stupid mistakes, we just have to work together, work back. When they got one on us, we knew it was going to be hard to get another goal, but we had to keep working. In the second overtime, we were just saying that we couldn't give up now," added senior defensive back Natalie Stinson.
Ocean City (14-5-3) had a golden opportunity to win the game outright in the second overtime period, but Anna Devlin's shot from about 20 yards out rang off the crossbar.
The Red Raiders had a 3-2 advantage heading into the fourth round of PKs, but Keogh made a save and teammate Julia Lamparello converted to tie it, 3-3, heading into the fifth round. Lappin converted her chance and Ocean City won it when East misfired on its final attempt.
"We just weren't mentally prepared for that shootout (against Mainland) and this time we practiced more and prepared ourselves more," Lappin said. "We definitely made ourselves more mentally prepared. You just have to stay calm, stay focused and put it in the back of the net. You can't think about anything else. You have to block everything out."
"This time, we practiced PKs, we had our regular goalie back in net and we had a set group of girls beforehand. They were confident and they were ready. It's absolutely crazy. At that point, you're just hoping because you gave your all for 100 minutes. It's a shame it had to come down to PKs but that's how close a game it was," Stinson added. "I think it shows we work together and we work hard, and we learn from our mistakes. We finished it when it counted."
Ocean City is in win-or-go-home mode, and that's something the Red Raiders' seniors are acutely aware of. A loss will mean the end of their high school soccer careers, and they are desperately trying to avoid that.
"Every game could be my last one," Stinson said. "We're trying to savor the moments and just play our best, play for the team and work together."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays