Wednesday night’s girls soccer match between West Johnston and Clayton wasn’t exactly winner-take-all for the Greater Neuse River 4A regular season title, but a loss would make winning the league very difficult.
With that as the backdrop, it took an extra 20 minutes and Leah Rodgers’ goal in the 86th minute to separate the teams as Clayton came away with a 3-2 win in overtime.
The Comets (12-2-1, 8-1-1) now hold a half-game lead over the Wildcats (14-3-1, 8-2-1) in the standings — as well as the tiebreaker with just a handful of matches remaining.
“I’m just ecstatic,” senior defender Kendall Gillespy said. “Our team’s gone through a lot of downs this season. We pulled through together. … I’m super proud of them. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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The Wildcats took the lead in the 10th minute when Kori Lawrence’s ball into the Clayton box was tapped in by Robin Pollard.
Clayton bounced back in the 32nd minute when center back Peyton Doyle corralled a loose ball outside the box and thumped the ball into the top right corner to tie the score at 1-1.
The game was tied for less than two minutes when Pollard took a pass from Ashley Tucker with her back to goal from a little more than 35 yards out.
The UNLV recruit took a touch, turned to her left and chipped the ball over the keeper and into the back of the net.
“Robin is a special, special player,” West Johnston coach Luke Waddell said. “She’s a once-in-a-decade type player.”
West Johnston kept the lead until the 48th minute, when Sophia Woznichak took a pass from Rodgers in the Wildcats’ penalty area. The senior put the ball away to knot the score at 2-2.
“I feel like people really focus on the goals and stuff, but it’s really a team effort,” she said. “If I hadn’t had Leah pass it to me, if I hadn’t had Kendall to block that shot – I’m just the last part. It’s everyone else getting it to me that makes the effort worthwhile.”
Despite chances on both ends, the match stayed tied until the sixth minute of the first of two 10-minute overtime periods. Rodgers, playing out of position at striker, scored the game winner off a rebound.
“I think in the last four matches, we’ve conceded the first goal,” Clayton coach Brian Stevens said. “There’s been a lot of adversity with this team. … We had a lot of people playing out of position. We had four freshmen who haven’t played much varsity subbing. … But the one thing they’ve stuck true to is playing for each other. And I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
Waddell was also pleased with his team’s effort on the night.
“None of them should feel badly about how they played,” he said. “It was up-and-down the whole time. I’m proud of the way the girls played. It was tough to be on the wrong side of it, but Clayton, all-around, has a strong team. We have very strong areas, and that’s what won out tonight.”