Green Hope coach Bobby Peterson had always been wary of discussing state championship aspirations with his team. Until this year. Armed with five juniors who helped win a national championship for their club team this summer, he knew his team had the talent to raise the standards of what was already one of the Triangle’s top programs.
The Falcons, ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN Rise, are now on the doorstep of their first state championship after winning at Wilmington Hoggard 3-0 Wednesday night in the 4A East final.
Awaiting the unbeaten and untied Falcons (25-0) Saturday will be the nation’s No. 2 ranked team, Charlotte Hough, which prevailed in the 4A West final 3-1 against Charlotte Providence. Its current 25-game win streak is fourth in N.C. High School Athletic Association history.
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“I’m sure both teams will be revved up, nervous, ready to go,” Peterson said. “A lot of these games, it’s a matter of which team can calm down and play their game, and we’re hoping we can do that.”
Knowing it was facing a loaded Falcons team, Hoggard (19-2-2) went to a strategy of defend-and-counter. And it worked well enough at times.
None of Green Hope’s tallies came from a standard run-of-play goal.
“It definitely threw us off our game. Our offense had to rediscover what to do,” said Peterson, in his ninth year as head coach. “(Our goals came from) things that were extraordinary efforts rather than the beautiful game. But they got the efforts, so we’ll definitely take it.”
Green Hope’s first goal came on a fluky play as Hoggard goalkeeper Sarah Downing covered up a loose ball, but after a second of staying on top of it, the ball squirted out from beneath her. Green Hope’s Maya Worth, already hustling toward Downing to apply pressure, gathered the ball and tapped in an open-net first goal in the 16th minute.
The score stayed 1-0 until halftime despite Green Hope’s 64 percent possession, thanks to Hoggard’s defending in depth. At times, as many as eight Viking players defended in the box.
“It was definitely something that got in our way, trying to stop our flow,” said Green Hope junior Alexis Degler. “There were rough patches, but I think we adapted. We knew we had to keep it and play our game, which is possession, and not let it break our flow.”
Green Hope survived a few close-range free kicks from Hoggard to start the second half, then began to reassert itself on offense and controlled the game.
“We knew when you get to the semifinals, it’s not easy,” Falcons goalkeeper Lisa Armstrong said.
In the 52nd minute, a 25-yard free kick from Alexis Shaffer went into the side netting on the left side after she hesitated to the right to put the Falcons up 2-0. Green Hope put the icing on the cake with 4:10 remaining, as Degler tucked in Green Hope’s third goal off a Shaffer corner after a scrum in the box.
Falcons senior Grace Hamashima, one of six on the team, said the workman-like focus remained with the team during its two-hour drive to Wilmington.
“From the moment we stepped off the bus, it was like ‘we’re here to win, we need to make it to Saturday,’” Hamashima said.
Degler said the focus will still be there Saturday, when it takes the pitch at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field at 11 a.m.
“We just have to focus even more now,” Degler said. “(Today) puts it into perspective that when we put our mind to it, we can do it.”