CHAPEL HILL — The fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs represent undiscovered territory for East Chapel Hill after the Wildcats downed Heritage 3-2 Wednesday.
Zachary Lee provide the go-ahead goal and then assisted on what proved to be the game-winner Wednesday as East Chapel Hill turned a 1-1 halftime tie into the wildcats' first win ever in the NCHSAA 4A playoffs' third round.
"The two goals in the second half were great," said East Chapel Hill coach Austin Collins, who's led the Wildcats into the state playoffs in both of his first two seasons with the varsity. "The main thing I wanted was for us to maintain the pressure and get a second goal and then another. You can't ever take your foot off the gas in the playoffs."
Not even a late “own goal” by East Chapel Hill (17-1-2) could dampen the Wildcats’ enthusiasm about reaching the 4A fourth round for the first time. The Wildcats did it as a 3A team and have made the playoffs every year since moving up to the 4A in 2006, but reached the third round just once since then and lost 6-1 to New Hanover in the 2008 third round.
Heritage (16-8-0) was making some history of its own Wednesday at Wildcat Stadium. In just their third year of varsity play, the Huskies were happy to be involved in the second round.
"This is our first group of seniors, and we've only four of them," Heritage coach Scott Sloan said. "The high school soccer playoffs are all about creating memories, and they've made some great ones."
East Chapel Hill appeared to have control early after Michael Balog headed in a left-footed cross from Louis Levin for a 1-0 lead just 12 minutes into the match. But Heritage answered with an almost identical goal with 3:22 left in the first half. Nando Morales sent a long throw-in from the corner across the six-yard box, and Tyler Van Hall headed in the equalizer from the far post for his 11th goal in the last eight games.
"We got a little stuck toward the end of the first half," Levin said. "But we started right back in the second like we started in the first half."
Levin helped get things going in the 63rd minute by banging a hard shot that ricocheted off the hands of Heritage keeper Calvin Hamblett. Lee pounced on the ball and one-timed it from just off the far post for a 2-1 East Chapel Hill lead.
With 8:51 to play, Lee sent a pass forward to Alexander Yokum, who made the most of his one-on-one with the keeper for a 3-1 lead.
That seemed to be plenty of insurance until a Wildcat reserve defender, desperate to keep the ball away from Van Hall inside the penalty area, tried to clear it over the back line but instead fired it into his own goal with 24 seconds left.
"In the end, I was putting in guys who had been sitting all game and were stiff and cold," Collins said. "They really weren't ready."