Green Hope’s girls’ soccer team has come to expect a late-round playoff match against Leesville Road – and sometimes that expectation came with dread, as the Pride has won two of the previous three 4A state titles.
But something changed in the minds of this year’s Falcons. They wanted to play Leesville, beat Leesville and then go on to enjoy the same championship success that the Pride has denied Green Hope in each of the three previous postseasons with defeats in the third round twice and fourth round once.
Green Hope, ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN Rise, got two of its three wishes on Friday night with a 3-0 road win against the Pride in the fourth round.
“We call it our biggest rivalry outside of the Tri-Nine (Conference) because it’s just one of those teams you always want to beat,” Alexis Degler said. “You just know the way they’re going to map it out we’re always going to play Leesville. ... We were expecting it, but we were wanting it more than expecting it.”
Green Hope coach Bobby Peterson credited this year’s junior-heavy team with looking past the jersey and prestige of Leesville and playing its game.
“When we’ve come in here before, there’s always been a lot of panic,” said Peterson. “But the difference, I think, with this one, is we just had the poise. (The players) were under control, they didn’t let it panic them and because of it that we were able to use their skills. It was nice to see – it was finally nice to see.”
After an evenly-played first 15 minutes in which Leesville applied pressure with its forwards, Green Hope began to settle in. Peterson credited “unsung heroes” midfielders Natalie Chalker, Caitlin Messina and Morgan Vezina for being a calming presence on both ends.
But the Falcons didn’t have anything on the scoreboard until two minutes, 19 seconds left before halftime, when junior Alexis Shaffer turned to the middle of the box and fired to the near post, where it ricocheted toward the back post, hit a defender’s leg and backed into the net.
The Falcons (24-0) wasted no time in doubling their lead in the second half.
A ball crossed in by Amanda Lasater nearly found Maya Worth, but moved out of its way at the last minute to set up Degler to hammer in the score at the back post.
Leesville Road had a few chances, none better than a breakaway by Mary Cate Bowers, which was saved by Lisa Armstrong with a little more than 17 minutes left.
With the Pride (25-2-1) having to throw more people forward, Green Hope got more counterattacks in the game’s final 10 minutes and Degler capitalized with just more than a minute remaining off an assist from Maya Worth.
“The criteria for success at Leesville is very high. These girls will feel pain temporarily but after that, they’ll reflect on the season – 25 wins, I think that’s the most we’ve ever had and we had a great conference season and a nice run in the playoffs,” said Leesville Road coach Paul Dinkenor. “Our girls should have no regrets. They had a great season.”
Green Hope may have gotten past Leesville, but enjoying a championship will take two more wins. The Falcons will play at Wilmington Hoggard Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in the school’s first appearance in the East final.
“We just want to win the whole thing, but we have to go into the next two games knowing the next two teams will be just as good, so we’ll have to be just as prepared,” Shaffer said.