The goals were down while the hot chocolate sales were up on a cold night, but the result was the same.
Chapel Hill’s boys soccer team won its fourth straight home match in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A playoffs with a 1-0 decision over Southern Lee Friday night on a 41-degree evening.
Chapel Hill (23-2) advanced to the East Regional final on Tuesday against Terry Sanford. The Cavaliers (14-7) from Sanford finished their deepest playoff run in school history. Southern Lee had never advanced past the third round.
In the first three rounds, the Tigers outscored their opponents 17-1, but this was a defensive struggle. Southern Lee senior goalie Colton Dutchess recorded three strong saves early in the match.
Chapel Hill finally broke through with 8:39 left in the first half. With the ball in a crowd, junior Justin Mecham headed it to the left to senior Paul McLaughlin, who was moving to his left. McLaughlin shielded a defender, anchored his feet and managed to to redirect the ball to his right for the score.
“I (was) saying to myself we need to get one before halftime,” said McLaughlin, a team captain. “They were putting up a good fight defensively. ‘Meech’ put a good header to me, and I was able to keep it low and hard.”
Prior to McLaughlin’s goal, Dutchess had saved two attempts by Mecham. One was a body save with a hard shot from point-blank range. On another, Dutchess charged out of the net to challenge Mecham for a loose ball. Mecham was close to punching in a goal, but Dutchess lunged. They collided with Dutchess crumpling to the turf and Mecham flipping over him.
“Colton is one of the best keepers around,” said Southern Lee coach Vincent Frye. “Without him, they would have scored a lot more goals.”
Chapel Hill’s defenders kept the pressure off Tigers senior goalie Aiden McCormick, but he came up with one save that might otherwise have been a crushing blow.
On a slow moving ball from the left side of the net, McCormick looked like a third baseman letting a ball roll foul. Once the ball rolled out of bounds, McCormick picked up what he thought was a dead ball. But with the referee’s vision shielded from the right side of the field, a corner for Southern Lee was ruled.
The Cavaliers executed the play with a header to the right corner of the net, but the 6-foot-3 McCormack made a leaning and leaping catch of the ball with 2:25 left in the first half.
“It was a very good header,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it and I was a little out of position, so I was glad I could get it.”
McLaughlin said the close score was good for the Tigers with tough matches coming up.
“It shows how resilient we are,” he said. “We can come together for a good, hard fought win.”