It took over 34 minutes for the Princeton girls’ soccer team to get past Rosewood’s bunker defense, but once the Bulldogs finally found a way through, Princeton quickly took complete control in the significant Carolina 1A Conference contest.
Four goals came within a span of 15 minutes and Princeton defeated the Eagles 4-2 to take a firm grip of second place in the conference. The Bulldogs (15-4, 11-2 Carolina 1A) dropped Neuse Charter 9-0 on Friday, but had their final regular-season game rained out. The conference named Spring Creek (12-2 in the league) and Princeton co-champions with Spring Creek taking the No. 1 seed and Princeton getting the No. 2 spot.
On Thursday, with Rosewood often dropping nine field players behind the ball and sagging back into their own penalty area, Princeton (14-4 overall, 10-2 Carolina 1A) dominated possession and the bulk of the shots on frame.
It wasn’t until Kassandra Velasquez won the ball in the middle of the pitch, wove past a handful of Eagle defenders and flicked the ball into the back of the net with the outside of her right foot in the 35th minute that Princeton saw its dominance displayed on the scoreboard.
Chelsea Hawley, who controlled play all game long in the midfield position found Peyton Whitley for an easy tap-in goal five minutes into the second half.
Hawley netted a goal for herself three minutes later off of a free kick from 30 yards out and Madison Adkins put the Bulldogs up 4-0 two minutes later with a nice shot to the far post.
“I think in the first half, we were trying to feel out for how hard the other team was pressuring us and they weren’t really,” Princeton coach Morgan Brush said. “In the second half, we had the ball going towards our school here. We practice on this goal three or four times a week.
“You just can’t be scared to shoot it; if you don’t shoot it, you don’t score.”
In all, Princeton managed 12 shots on goal for the game but even more importantly, limited the chances that Rosewood (13-5, 10-4) and, namely, standout Lexi Mercer had.
Mercer entered the game with 41 goals on the season but even though she was again the main focus for the Eagles’ offense, the Princeton back four prevented her from getting within a whiff of goal for the entire first half.
Jordan Johnson, McKenzie Smale, Jenna Woodard and Emily Woodward combined to keep Mercer at bay for much of the contest.
“They always look for her as a target so we try to adjust,” said Brush of her defensive strategy geared towards slowing down Mercer. “She’s absolutely the fastest person out here so we expected them to hit it over and her run onto it like she did the last game. Our defense’s spacing and their communication between each other—they did absolutely amazing.”
Down four goals, Rosewood was awarded a penalty kick that came against the run of play. Mercer converted the opportunity and later trimmed the lead to 4-2 when she collected a loose ball in the box before slotting it home.
Princeton, however, responded by running out the clock with their effective possession game.
The win gave the Bulldogs the important sweep over their rivals and a two-game edge on the Eagles with Princeton facing two more games in the final week of the regular season.
Wins against Neuse Charter and North Duplin would help the Bulldogs finish tied for first place with Spring Creek.