Nobody was expecting a result like this.
But in a season filled with dominating performances, Green Hope dominated against one of the best teams in the state in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association state 4A girls soccer playoffs on Tuesday night.
Izzy Brown booted in a pair of free-kick goals and the Falcons put on a four-goal second-half barrage in a 5-0 win over Leesville Road.
The result boosted top-seeded Green Hope (23-0) into Friday night’s Eastern semifinal against No. 4 seed Hoggard. Leesville Road finished 19-3-2.
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Brown put the Falcons up 1-0 in the eighth minute, scoring inside the near post on a free kick from 30 yards out on the left side.
And the score stayed right there until the 60th minute.
Grace Wagner made it 2-0 from inside the box, and then in the 62nd minute Brown scored on another free kick from about 25 yards out on the right side. It was Wagner’s 21st goal of the season while Brown got her 12th.
Catherine Holbrook made it 4-0 as her throw-in ricocheted off a defender into the goal for her 11th of the campaign two minutes later, and Audrey Cook scored her eighth goal of the year two minutes after that.
Lilly Dunn had six saves in her 14th shutout of the year, while Leesville Road’s Felicity Baker stopped four shots.
The Falcons have been one of the state’s premiere athletic powers for about a decade, and they’re looking for a second state title to go with the one they earned in 2013.
“We had a game plan, and we spend time before every game focusing on the plans for that specific game,” Green Hope coach Stacy Lamb said. “We stuck to it. We’ve talked a lot this season about how far just sticking together and having the desire to be a team can get you. You can bend but you can’t break.”
She continued: “The kids were mentally prepared and did everything right. We’re confident but not cocky – we know if we play well we can win every game. We want to determine the momentum and the style of game we want. At halftime, by the time I got to the huddle the girls had already figured out what we needed to do and all I had to do was emphasize out main points. They were special and were good for 80 minutes. Our defenders were absolutely fantastic. And Izzy and Grace have proved they’re special. But if you try to stop them then Audrey Cooke has the game of her life. Or Anna Bevan. Or Taylor Cammarta.”
Of course it helps to have ACC-level talent – particularly players who are good enough to commit as underclassmen.
The sophomore Brown has already committed to North Carolina. Junior co-captain Wagner – whose sister Claire plays for the N.C. Courage – will follow in her older sibling’s footsteps to Clemson.
“We really wanted to start the game off strong, and I think my free kick hyped everybody up,” said Brown, who committed to UNC as a freshman. “After that we just kept coming at them.”
Added Wagner, who committed to the Tigers as a sophomore, “We saw MaxPreps had Leesville ranked ahead of us, and that really motivated us coming in. Once we got the second and third goals we knew we had it in the bag. But we know we have to be at our best. It’s ‘ring season.’”
The Pride certainly didn’t have the end veteran coach Paul Dinkenor was looking for, but overall it was a very solid final campaign in the Cap-8 before the conference gets a retooling.
“Let’s give Green Hope credit,” said Dinkenor, who has guided Leesville Road to three state titles. “I was a little disappointed in that first goal. The girl hit a nice shot, but that was a momentum-changer. We played well in the final 15 minutes of the first half, and our defense has been a strength this year. But tonight was just not our night and we have to give Green Hope credit for that.”
He continued: “They served some quality balls into the box. We knew they were more of a long-ball team while we try to penetrate wide and get it in the middle. Their defense cut us off very well and we never defended the long ball. We had a great season with four great seniors, and we have a good nucleus for next year. We’ve gone to at least the third round for 11 years in a row, and it’s hard to get to the third round. To get 19 wins against our schedule was great.”
Three of the four seniors are headed to college ball, as Rachel Golden will play at UNC Asheville, Avery Gardner at Elon and Rebecca Bailey will play at Queens.
Golden and Gardner have already found their college teams’ showdown on the fall schedule.
“We’ve made a lot of great friendships,” Golden said. “We’re like a family. Green Hope is a good team. We wish them the best of luck. And they’d better win states after beating us like that! We just weren’t in our element tonight.”
Added Gardner, “It’s been great playing with this group of underclassmen. They’ll have a good team next year. They love us and we love them.”