The Lee County boys soccer team kept the number six in their heads as they made their way through the 2015 high school season.
“We just approached everything we did taking things six at a time,” said Yellow Jackets’ senior captain Payton Jackson. “Everything in sixes. Because we knew it was going to take six games to get through the state playoffs and to a state championship.”
Lee County earned the right to play that all so important sixth playoff match Tuesday night with a 1-0 victory over Eastern Alamance in the NCHSAA Eastern Regional 3A final.
The Jackets (25-3-1) will meet Weddington (19-1-2) in the state championship game Saturday at the Dail Soccer Complex at N.C. State University. Weddington beat Asheville 3-0 Tuesday night in the Western regional finals. All NCHSAA state championship match times will be set later this week.
Tuesday’s match was both a tight and a somewhat comfortable one for the Cape Fear Valley Conference champs. Although the Eagles were always a shot away from going ahead (during the first half) or tying the match in the second half, Lee County controlled much of the possession and almost all of the offensive chances until Eastern Alamance (22-4) started its late-match offensive push to try to equalize.
Jackson provided the only score of the match less than five minutes into the second half.
“I just got a ball on my foot and I was able to get it off,” Jackson said of the goal, his 39th this fall. “It wasn’t anything beautiful, I just tried to keep it low and to the corner where its toughest for a goalie to get to on that situation.”
Eastern keeper Matt Fenton was unable to get to it and the Jackets had the goal they needed.
From there it was the work of the Jackets’ back line and goalie Santana Perez, who went the entire match in net after splitting time with fellow senior Hunter Watson for most of the season.
“Michael (Carter) and Addison (Jackling) did a very good job on the back line and Santana was great all night,” said Lee County coach Brad Wicker. “Eastern Alamance had some good counter chances and they were a really physically big squad, tough to deal with all night. It took a great team effort to get by them.”
The Eagles had three good chances on direct kicks in the final 18 minutes of play. Greg Sharpe had the first, just outside of the 18-yard box, with 17:50 to play. But his slicing ball found Perez’s hands instead of the upper corner of the net.
Perez had to make two more saves on directs with 13 and 12 minutes to play, respectively. The first was a great chance from 35 yards out, but Perez got to and caught the ball before anything dangerous happened. It was his third shutout of the season. He’s only allowed eight goals in 23 matches played.
“It depends on where the ball is going, if I want to always catch it or not,” Perez said of catching shots. “Your goal is just to keep the ball out of the net. It takes an entire team to do that and we played great team soccer tonight, defense and offense, together. It takes everybody to get to a state championship match.”
Saturday’s match will be Lee’s first in the state title game.