Moments before opening kickoff, North Raleigh Christian Academy girls soccer coach Ed Pinon offered his suspicions that Thursday’s contest at Wake Christian Academy might not be as one-sided as the clubs’ earlier meeting, which the Knights claimed by nine goals in convincing fashion just 16 days previously.
Pinon’s prediction would prove to be prescient, at least for one hard-fought half of action.
The Knights led by just a single goal at intermission before pulling away over the closing 40 minutes en route to securing a 6-0 decision that enhanced NRCA’s postseason aspirations out of the Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Conference.
North Raleigh Christian, seeking its seventh straight appearance in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A playoffs, upped its mark to 9-5-1 overall and 4-3-1 in the TISAC, which is good enough for third place behind league powers Durham Academy and Cary Academy.
But the triumph didn’t come easily as the spirited Bulldogs (7-8-2, 1-6) were determined to defend their home turf as part of senior night festivities.
“At halftime, we talked about the fact that we were kind of pitiful in the first half,” said NRCA midfielder Tori Horton – one of only two seniors on the Knights’ young roster. “We weren’t as into it mentally as we needed to be, and we knew that (WCA) was trying to get us back (for the earlier game). We knew they would be ready on Senior Night. We came out and were much better in the second half.”
NRCA’s lone goal in the opening half came when Katie Mayhew found the net off a tough angle from inside the box at the 26:24 mark.
From that point, Wake Christian buckled down defensively, led by the standout backrow work of East Carolina signee Anna Fish.
“We had a great team effort,” Fish said. “We won a lot more 50-50 balls (than the earlier match). The effort was a lot better. The first time we played (NRCA), I just don’t think we had that desire to go out and win.”
The second half, however, belonged to the Knights, beginning with a Ciara Brown free kick goal from 25 yards out with 24:23 remaining.
NRCA would tack on four more goals down the stretch, including a pair from Alyssa McInnis, to wrap up the victory – and take another step toward keeping its postseason streak alive.
During that six-season span, the Knights have been unable to get past the second round against tough competition in the 16-team field. Pinon would love to make it further in the bracket this time around, but he won’t be judging his group’s entire portfolio by its playoff body of work.
“We have a lot of girls coming back next year, and sometimes you find yourself looking back at teams in the past or thinking about the future,” said Pinon, who has been at NRCA for 18 years. “But the most important thing is to think about this year and try not to think too much down the road. ... The beauty of high school sports is that anybody can beat anybody on a given day. We preach that a lot to our kids. I don’t know – we might pull off an upset (in the playoffs). If not, at least we will have given our best effort and left everything on the field.”