RALEIGH — Millbrook and Sanderson knew what to expect from each other Wednesday, as the third-round state tournament pairing was the third meeting between the teams this year. There was respect on both sides of the field as the conference opponents prepared for a dogged playoff battle.
Sanderson (15-5-2, 11-3 Cap Eight), a No. 15-seed, scored early when the ball slipped behind two Millbrook defenders just enough for Spartans senior midfielder Amy Owens to fire a point blank shot past Wildcats keeper Anna Shelden in the third minute of play. The play came as no surprise to Millbrook coach Matt Edwards.
“They were exactly who we knew they would be,” Matt Edwards said. “They scored on the set piece. ... We knew that was what they would try to do.”
Edwards called the early Sanderson goal a “wake-up call” and said the situation was something the Wildcats prepared for in practice, but the damage was done as the Spartans managed to fend off a pesky Millbrook effort for the next 77 minutes to take a 1-0 win and advance to the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
The Cap Eight teams split their regular season matchups with Sanderson winning the second meeting and taking the conference’s No. 2 seed, and Millbrook finishing fourth in league standings.
“It was a tough draw having Millbrook, but they came through two tough teams to get here,” Sanderson coach Todd Worley said. “That’s a great, great team. ... Tonight I thought Millbrook’s pace was better than I’d seen it and we struggled in the first half with that, but our girls had a lot of grit tonight; got the first goal, and I didn’t think that was going to hold, but it did. Our defense did a fantastic job and our keeper, Kiley Coster, came up with two huge saves.”
No. 23 Millbrook (15-7-1, 9-4-1), on its heels after the Spartans’ goal, was the aggressor for the remainder of the first half.
The Wildcats attempted five shots before the break that either sailed high or ended up in the mitts of Coster.
The senior Sanderson keeper came up huge in the final minutes of the half, stretching across the goal line to stop a Colleen Markey shot before it could cross the plane in the 36th and then halting an attempt fired by Claire Griffiths from only feet out in the 40th to keep the Wildcats at bay.
“We expected to win, but we knew it was going to be a lot of emotion. We knew it was gong to be a lot of effort, and we knew that they had an edge when it came to those two things,” Edwards said. “We’re a very skilled team and we play a very attractive brand of soccer, but if you don’t defend, if you don’t score, if you don’t match emotion, you’re going to find yourself on the short end of the stick and I think that’s what happened. ... Even the opportunities that we created, nothing was clean because they fought so hard and you had to do so much just to get a chance.”
The onslaught didn’t stop after the break.
“I definitely would say they were pushing,” Coster said. “At the end there they had their goalie all the way up at half-field. They definitely wanted to win. They were trying to get balls across, trying just get balls into (the 18 yard box) and hope that they scored They were coming from everywhere, but I definitely owe it all to my team. I couldn’t have done it without them and they’re the reason that we’re going forward.”
Sanderson will travel to No. 3 Wilmington Hoggard for the next round. Hoggard knocked off the Cap Eight champion No. 6 Leesville Road, 2-1, Tuesday.
“We know (Hoggard) had a good game with Leesville, and we were able to compete with Leesville, so we feel confident,” Owens said.