Chapel Hill senior captain and scoring leader Alex Kimball knew scoring would not be easy in the East Regional 3A soccer championship match at Fike High School on Tuesday night.
But Kimball finally found the back of the goal in the 67th minute of the game to break a scoreless contest and spur the Tigers to a 2-0 win and a berth in the state championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday at N.C. State.
With pressure mounting on both sides, Chapel Hill booted out a loose ball past midfield and Kimball, who will play at UNC next year, got control of the ball. She shot from just outside the 18-yard line, but the shot was blocked by a defender. When the ball came back to her, she drilled a shot low and left of Fike goalkeeper E.J. Proctor, a Duke recruit, for a 1-0 lead with 13:46 left in the game.
“There was so much pressure, especially with E.J. being on my club team and the Carolina-Duke rivalry,” Kimball said. “I’ve played with her and against her, and she is such a great goaltender there was going to be a lot of pressure on us tonight. She had three really good saves on my shots.”
Fike tried to rally to tie, and Katie Stokely delivered a hard shot that Chapel Hill keeper Madeline Mesaros saved with three minutes left.
Chapel Hill (22-1) picked up the second goal and took a lot of pressure off when Mia Spencer caught Proctor out of the goal and was able to kick the ball in from near midfield with just 1:46 to play.
“Chapel Hill really limited our offensive opportunities,” said Fike coach Toni Varacchi, whose team ended the year 21-3-1. “And then they hit a nice shot from the top of the 18, but E.J. had some great saves in the game for us. We had an opportunity late; Stokely hit a great shot, but their keeper held onto the ball.”
Chapel Hill coach Ron Benson, in his final year coaching the Tigers, also pointed to the play of defenders Morgan Brandewie, Lily Shaw, Megan Dell, and Laura Sullivan.
“All four did well,” Benson said. “They not only play the ball in the air, but they anticipate and cover for each other.”
The Tigers were able to play their game against Fike and plan to do the same Saturday.
“We were able to play our game both halves in this game, pass the ball around, find some open space, and pass the ball there. That’s our plan going in, make it a pretty game, pass the ball, and try to beat you back door.
“We suspected this could be a special year,” Benson said. “Alex is special, but we’ve got five or six seniors who will be playing in college next year.”
Benson is expected to retire after this season, so every victory has postponed the end of his career by one more game.
Saturday night at Swansboro, his Tigers rallied with three second-half goals for a 3-1 victory over Swansboro.
Spencer tied the quarterfinal game with 29 minutes, 15 seconds remaining off a crossing pass from Sofie Nielson. Less than four minutes later, Frances Reuland gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead, and three minutes after that Megan Dell booted in a rebounded free kick by Kimball.
The Tigers out-shot Swansboro 12-3.
The Tigers are on the road because they advanced as the No. 2 seed from the Big Eight 3A Conference after sharing the regular-season title with Cardinal Gibbons