Panther Creek’s girls soccer team took another step toward returning to the state finals with a 2-0 win Wednesday over visiting Leesville Road.
The unbeaten Catamounts (17-0-2) advanced to the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East Region with their third straight postseason shutout. The area’s top-ranked team and region’s No. 3 seed will face Southwest Wake Athletic Conference rival Fuquay-Varina, a No 10 seed, Saturday in the fourth round.
The Catamounts’ unbeaten season following last year’s finish has kept expectations high, but the players say they’re aware of coping with the pressure.
“We try to focus on the game ahead of us and not let expectations get in the way,” said junior Rose Faustyn, who scored the Catamounts’ second goal with 3:43 remaining in the first half with an assist from Lindsey Pasteris.
Panther Creek’s first goal was scored by junior Sydney Rucker 11 minutes into the game with an assist from Meredith Hamby on a cross.
Leesville Road (11-5-4), ranked No. 13 in the area and seeded No. 22, made a late-season run to earn a postseason bid and upset No. 6 seed East Chapel Hill in penalty kicks to reach the third round.
“We struggled offensively the whole year, but I thought our seniors (Megan Purich and Caroline Smith) played extremely well,” Pride coach Paul Dinkenor said. “I thought we dominated the first 10 minutes and had a good chance on a far post on a lovely cross, but we didn’t score. I’m not saying the outcome would have been different, but you can’t play from behind when you struggle to score.
“But no regrets, we had a fun season. We’ve lost in the third round two years in a row, so we need some improvement. Expectations are higher now.”
Leesville Road forced the action in Panther Creek’s end of the field in those opening 10 minutes, but Catamounts senior goalie Celeste Barnard said her defenders made it hard for the Pride to take a good shot.
“They prevented people from turning and facing the goal, so there weren’t too many chances,” Barnard said. “They make them play back and they don’t want to shoot from that far out. A goalie loves that.”
Panther Creek had an advantage on penalty kicks, but Leesville Road junior goalie Shannon Hardy managed eight saves for the game.