Not even the first goal given up in weeks – and at a backbreaking time, too – could stop Panther Creek’s girls’ soccer team.
The Catamounts earned their first trip to the state championship with a 2-1 overtime victory over Wilmington’s Hoggard High in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East title game.
Panther Creek will play Hough at 8 p.m. Saturday at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Stadium.
Panther Creek fans were almost ready to start the celebration before Hoggard tied the score with 2 minutes, 14 seconds left in regulation. It was the first time the Catamounts had been scored upon since May 7, a 2-1 win against Green Hope, and snapped a six-game shutout streak.
“That’s probably the most adversity we’ve faced all year. Hats off to (Hoggard) for obviously a great game. We knew they were going to be in it till the end,” Panther Creek coach David Grant said. “Most teams that (are) scored on in the last two minutes like that are just going to deflate. We just pulled it back in like we would at any halftime of any other game.”
After the break between regulation and the first of two mandatory, 10-minute overtime periods, Panther Creek regrouped.
“We had 20 minutes left, and we were going to do the best we could in those 20 minutes,” goalkeeper Celeste Barnard said.
The game-winner was scored by a freshman Meredith Hamby a little more than two minutes into overtime. Hamby received a pass from Courtney Cash in the box. Unmarked, Hamby drilled in the ball from 8 feet out during the 83rd minute.
“I just watched how we had been doing combos all game. I found that run through,” said Hamby, a defender. “It was a rush of excitement, and I knew we couldn’t let down.”
Panther Creek (23-0-1) had controlled the possession and all but two of the shots during the first half. Its first goal came in the opening stages of the second half, however, in the 41st minute.
Briana Velasquez drilled in a penalty that had been whistled for a Hoggard handball.
In the second half, Hoggard (22-3-2) began to find some chances with some counterattacks. The Catamounts only play three defenders, which gave the counters added pressure.
Panther Creek’s celebration was postponed in the 78th minute when Hoggard scored on a long, curling shot from Ali Frankeny to tie it.
Panther Creek is the third straight 4A East champ to enter the state final undefeated. The past two years, it was arch-rival Green Hope that has earned that honor.
Now it is the Catamounts’ turn to play at N.C. State with an unbeaten record.
“I’ve never seen a more driven group of 26 girls. And that’ll take you a long way,” Grant said. “It’s going to be pretty tough Saturday night, but I tell you what – we’re going to be in it. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to win it, but we’re going to be in that game because we’re going to carry ourselves through our energy, our passion and our talent.”