CARY — The two-time reigning 4A boys’ soccer champs want to play the beautiful game in a beautiful way. But sometimes that hasn’t been an option.
Green Hope wasn’t flashy on Wednesday, but it showed once again it’s not afraid to grind its way to victory, defeating Millbrook 1-0 in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.
“I think a lot of it this year has been their cohesion,” Green Hope coach Michael Hoy said. “One of the big differences in teams that can grind those games out and those who don’t is how they stick together.”
Captain Sam Rauf echoed the sentiment, saying positivity is key when dealing with a game where the passes and attack aren’t working well.
There were plenty of times Wednesday night when Green Hope could have been frustrated.
Most of the scoreless first half was played in the midfield area, though a few Green Hope throw-ins provided some near-goals, including one off the post.
The first corner kick came in the 55th minute, and it nearly resulted in a Millbrook goal that was pushed just wide of the goal and out of the reach of another Wildcats player who tried to tap it in.
Green Hope (21-2), the No. 1-seed in the 4A tournament, got the lone tally in the 59th minute.
Rauf, a defender who had pushed up into the box durin a throw-in, was in front of Millbrook’s Andrew Heist when the goalkeeper dropped a cross sent in by Green Hope’s Laasse Frigstad.
Rauf capitalized on what was one of just a few Millbrook mistakes on the night, and he poked in the goal.
“(Heist) played a great game. Especially after the goal, he kept his team in it with a lot of great saves. I was very impressed,” Rauf said, but on the goal the ball “came back in. And I think there was some miscommunication between him and the defender, and it just dropped right in.”
Millbrook (13-9-3), the 25th seed in the 4A tournament and 14th in The News & Observer rankings, came ready to make Green Hope play this style.
“Tactically, we wanted to clog up the middle of the field. We knew that good teams want to keep the ball on the floor, move it around and change fields,” Millbrook coach Matt Edwards said. “I think for the most part, we did what we needed to do to minimize that.”
The Wildcats had beaten D.H. Conley in Greenville in the first round and at Clayton in the second and will lose seven senior starters.
“They’ve grown so much in the postseason,” Edwards said. “They were such a breath of fresh air – good leadership, good character, smart.”
Green Hope will host New Hanover (21-2-2) on Saturday, a rematch of last season’s 4A East final. The Wildcats, out of Wilmington, defeated Jordan (16-4-3) 1-0.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps