CHAPEL HILL Earning its 20th straight win, No. 1-seeded Chapel Hill avoided the pitfalls of playing an underdog Wednesday and blew past No. 8-seeded South Brunswick 4-1 in a third-round game of the N.C. High School Athletics Association soccer playoffs.
After a scoreless and potentially frustrating first half, with the Tigers accumulating a 16-1 advantage in shots, Chapel Hill pierced the Cougars’ tightly packed defense with unassisted goals 22 seconds apart – from Ben Fisher at the 36-minute, 2-second mark and Alex Walker at 35:40.
Connor Albrecht added an unassisted goal with 11:11 left to give Chapel Hill a 3-1 lead, and Chris Greaney finished the scoring 2:22 later off a ball curled across the box by Nate Hebert.
With the win, Chapel Hill (24-1-1) advances to the 3A regional semifinals for the third time in five years, where it will face No. 4 Jacksonville (18-4-1). South Brunswick (7-11-3) had never reached the third round before Wednesday.
Chapel Hill finished the game with a 32-3 edge in shots, 19-0 in corner kicks.
Cougars goalkeeper Mason Berne saved 15 shots, some of them almost point blank, to keep the match close for 45 minutes.
Despite their losing record, the Cougars emerged as the top 3A team from the 4A-3A Mideastern Conference after playing a brutal schedule, which included state powers Wilmington Hoggard, Wilmington Laney and New Bern as league opponents.
“There’s no question that playing those 4A teams made us better,” South Brunswick coach Patrick Lawson said. “Our goal since before the season was to get to the third round for the first time. It was tough, but we made it here.”
South Brunswick startled the home crowd barely 70 seconds into the game when Ryan Dail broke behind the Chapel Hill defense and launched a hard shot from 17 yards, banging it off the cross-bar.
“They have some athletes, and their instructions were basically to boot the ball forward and run fast after it,” Chapel Hill coach Ron Benson said. “That’s what they did.”
South Brunswick snapped Chapel Hill’s string of eight straight shutouts when Cougars defender Michael Hitt scored on a 70-yard free kick with 27:14 to play.
Chapel Hill goalkeeper Justus Heizer, trying to back up in traffic inside the box, fell backward as Hitt’s ball bounced over him and into the goal.
“Giving up a shutout is never good,” Chapel Hill defender Chandler Weedon said. “But the main thing tonight was to win and advance. We did that.”