CARY — Green Hopes girls soccer team didnt win the title last season, but it has taken everyones best shot nonetheless. Friday nights 3-2 win against Leesville Road in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs was the Falcons third one-goal win in its past five games.
A goal by Callie McClain with 2 minutes, 57 seconds left gave the Falcons the win.
They say its easier to win a championship and harder to repeat it. We didnt win it last year but when were stepping into a game teams are looking to knock us off, Green Hope coach Bobby Peterson said.
The Falcons have won 26 straight games this season, one more than they had heading into last years state championship loss.
This season has been all about redemption for the Green Hope group that gave up two goals in the final 12 minutes of the 4A title game to lose 2-1.
With the East regional final against New Bern next, either Tuesday or Wednesday, players know theyre just a game away from returning to that same stage.
Green Hope (26-0 ) and Leesville Road (18-5-1) traded goals in the games first three minutes.
Leesville Road went on top 1-0 in the first minute when McKenzie Dipper struck a ball that was knocked around the box. It was Dippers seventh postseason goal this season.
In the third minute, Green Hopes Alexis Degler crossed back to an open Kenley Sigmon to tie the score.
The teams went into halftime tied at 1.
If Leesville Road had to play the perfect game to take down the No. 1 girls soccer team in the country, it came close.
The Prides midfield controlled the ball, linked up passes and applied pressure.
Green Hope couldnt link up passes as it is accustomed to, a byproduct of Leesville coach Paul Dinkenors strategy ofmarking Alexis Shaffer and Degler.
We have a lot of experience back there and we didnt change anything, Dinkenor said. We certainly did not come here to add a defender or to take an attacker out. We dont play like that at Leesville. We play to win.
Leesville tested the Green Hope back line by sending in long balls that let the Pride forwards catch up. Mary Kate Bowers scored on a counterattack in the 48th minute to put Leesville up 2-1.
But things started to turn just in time for the Falcons.
In the 66th minute, Green Hope evened it with Shaffer finding Degler in the box.
Once they started calming things down and moving the ball rather than just hitting it, it felt like we finally started playing our game, Green Hope coach Bobby Peterson said.
In the 78th, McClain who started the game playing in the back line and ended the game at the top of the formation, scored the game winner after Shaffer found her.
Leesville will lose nine seniors who contributed on the 2011 state title team a group that, like Green Hope this year, was No. 1 in the nation. The Pride has made the state quarterfinals seven straight seasons.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps