Senior forward Kylie McElroy posted a hat trick as Middle Creek knocked off Heritage, 3-1, in the third round of the N.C. High Schools Athletic Association 4A girls soccer playoffs Wednesday night at Mustang Stadium.
Middle Creek (15-5-3) advances to face No. 2 Cardinal Gibbons, a 6-1 winner against Fuquay-Varina Wednesday night, in the fourth round on Saturday.
The Huskies end their deepest playoff run in school history with a record of 12-8-3.
“We’re excited to go to Gibbons,” Middle Creek coach Guy Coleman said. “We went there last year, and I know they’re ready and waiting for us. … It’s becoming a little heated rivalry. Last year, we came out of there with a win and we’re going to try to come out of there with a win again. ... They’re a tough team. They play good ‘D.’ They have good offense. They’re well coached, so we’ll be prepared and I’m sure they will be too.”
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It was far from easy for Middle Creek on Wednesday, as the teams battled to a scoreless draw in the first half.
Heritage had the best chance in the first 40 minutes, but Michaella Arteta’s dipping shot from 20 yards out clanged off the crossbar in the eighth minute.
The match turned five minutes after halftime, when McElroy produced two goals in as many minutes.
Middle Creek won a corner kick in the 45th minute, and Mattie Murphy’s delivery was loose in the box when Murphy came in from the wing and fired a shot at the Huskies’ net. McElroy was right in front to deflect it past the keeper for the game’s opening goal.
The Francis Marion recruit added another tally in the 46th minute, when she latched on to a rebound of an Addison Salz shot near the penalty spot. She slotted the ball into the lower left corner to double the Mustangs’ lead.
“She’s always been our go-to in the playoffs,” Coleman said. “She scored nine goals in six games in the playoffs last year, and she’s on a similar streak right now. We’ve just got to get the ball to her. Get those crosses across the six and hopefully she’ll get there.”
Heritage got back into the match in the 51st minute, courtesy of a set piece.
Hayley Boyles lined up a free kick from the right edge of the box, and sent the whizzing straight towards the Mustangs’ goal. The ball found its way to Arteta, who thumped it into the open net to make it 2-1.
Heritage had a chance to equalize in the 74th minute when Alcenia Purnell broke free and made a run into the Middle Creek box. She was tackled there by a pair of Mustang defenders, drawing appeals for a penalty from the Heritage partisans.
But that call never came, and three minutes later, McElroy completed her hat trick by getting on the end of a cross from Avery Sweet.
“We played some good soccer tonight,” Heritage coach Scott Sloan said. “I think were a little unlucky on some of those 1-v-1 breakdowns. If those breakdowns don’t happen, it’s a good game down to the last second. ... We’ve got a young group of girls that kind of play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. And I’m really proud of them.”