It’s a cliché to say the sun shined on Corinth Holders girls soccer team, but a goal that started out as a popup into the sun is exactly what helped the Pirates advance to their program’s first state final.
Fifth-seeded Corinth Holders upset top-seeded Terry Sanford of Fayetteville on the Bulldogs’ field with a 1-0 victory Thursday night to win the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A East regional title. The Pirates play West Region champion Weddington for the state title Saturday at N.C. State.
It is the first time a Johnston County soccer team has reached the state championship.
“This is amazing,” exclaimed Corinth Holders’ junior Carolina Solis, whose popup into the sun led to freshman Anu Kane scoring.
Added Kane: “I’m only a freshman playing my first year of high school soccer, and this is unbelievable. I’m so happy to be a part of this team.”
The lone goal was set up by Terry Sanford’s pre-game decision to defend the east goal, even though a bright and large sun fading into the west shined directly in that direction. Bulldogs goalie Emily Walters spent the opening 25 minutes or so of the first half shielding her eyes until the sun receded behind the tree line.
With 27:36 left in the first half, Solis lofted a 25-yarder down the middle of the field. The Bulldogs’ goalie drifted up to the ball, looking like a baseball centerfielder fighting the sun to find the ball.
“I was trying to score, but I lofted it for the sun and because (the goalie) is short,” Solis said.
Walters recovered in time to find the ball and get her hands it, but the ball skipped off her block attempt. It hopped up, hit the crossbar and bounced down to the turf at the feet of Kane.
Officially, Solis doesn’t receive credit for assist, but Kane read the play like it was a pass.
“When Carolina hit the ball long, I knew I had to follow the ball,” said Kane, who is already verbally committed to USC – the one in Los Angeles. “I could see the goalie was off-balance. I saw it coming. I just had to tap it in.”
It was the first loss of the season for Terry Sanford (24-1-1), while the Pirates (19-4-1) won their fifth straight playoff match by shutout from freshman goalie Alyssa Walawender.
For the most part Walawender benefitted from a savvy defense that consistently broke up Terry Sanford’s offensive rhythm. On several breakaway attempts, freshman Riley Kaple beat Bulldogs to the ball to thwart plays.
“We just do a good job of covering each other,” Corinth Holders coach Alison Vetteri said. “We were communicating, believing and trusting each other. If you don’t have those things, you’ll have breakdowns along the way.”
But that doesn’t mean Walawender wasn’t playing with poise beyond her age.
Terry Sanford had its best chance for a goal in the final four minutes with a breakaway ball into the left corner and a cross to the middle of the field. The odds were against Walawender on such a play, but she read a hesitation by the shooter, adjusted her stance and came up with the save falling to her right on her knees.
“She had a bad first touch,” Walawender said. “I saw that. I knew had to get on that ball or they would put it in the net.”
Asked if she thought she was beaten before the bad touch, she said: “Definitely.”
Walawender has taken over in goal late in the year, but Walawender and junior Grace Pittman have combined for 16 shutouts in 19 wins. They have allowed only 14 goals in 24 matches. The Two Rivers 3A Conference champions started out the season 4-4, but they have gone 15-0-1 since a March 21 nonconference loss to Heritage. The tie was a 1-1 nonconference match against Fuquay-Varina.
The East title was won in the sun, but it was celebrated under nightfall with a lot of hugs and tears.