In years past, conceding a goal to a visiting team and then momentum during a game in the N.C. High School Athletic Association state playoffs, even if only temporarily, would have done in the Corinth Holders girls soccer team.
This year’s team is different though and a battle-tested Pirates squad showed their mettle in a 2-1 victory over visiting West Carteret Thursday night to advance to the third round of the 3A state playoffs for the first time in school history.
Lexie Chase provided the hosts with the early lead, first intentionally with a one-time volley five minutes into the game and then later doubled the advantage thanks to a fortuitous bounce off of a Patriots defender for an own goal and a 2-0 advantage.
After being outplayed for much of the opening 20 minutes of the game, West Carteret (11-9-2) quickly found itself right back in the middle of things thanks to a quick counterattack down the left wing in the 22nd minute. The sudden foray into their attacking third ended when the Patriots’ leading goal scorer, Bree Mason, rebounded an initial shot that hit the crossbar into the back of the net.
West Carteret then proceeded to take the game to the Pirates for the rest of the first half. Mason had three more chances inside the penalty box to tie things up but Corinth Holders keeper Rachel Witkin came up with two saves and Mason’s third shot went wide, preserving the 2-1 Pirates’ lead going into halftime.
“In years past, even if we had been up and that goal had gone in, it would be a complete shock,” said Corinth Holders coach Alison Vetterl. “Even though they were pressing and pressing, we stepped up to that challenge and were able to contain and hold them off.”
The back line for the Pirates, comprised of Alexis Ayers, Maddy Gladwell, Samantha Iorio and Mackenzie Jenkins, stood tall in the second half and didn’t allow Mason or any Patriot for the matter to get close to goal.
Witkin was called to make just three more saves, all easy ones from at least 25 yards out.
Corinth Holders twice came close to putting the game out of reach, first when a Lindy Morgan attempt on goal was headed off the line by defender Kalisa Wardell. Erica Boswell later came inches away from a possible goal-of-the-season contender when she fired a shot from over 30 yards out from goal that slammed off the crossbar.
The Pirates (19-3-1) instead iced the game away by controlling the midfield with the likes of Rylee Bays, Boswell, Chase and Summer Mitchell and didn’t allow Mason to get free.
“We really had to stay together and communicate more than we usually do,” Chase said. “Midfield had to get back more on defense so we could secure what we needed. With the attack, everyone needed to come up together as a team.”
Chase found herself wide open just five minutes into the game when Bays slid a through pass down the right wing to Carolina Solis. Solis danced around her defender and found Chase, still criminally unmarked in front of the net by the West Carteret defense. Solis crossed the ball and Chase volleyed it in into the roof of the net for her 18th goal of the season.
Ten minutes later, Chase worked herself free on the left side of the 18-yard box and sent a cross towards the front of the goal that ricocheted off of a Patriot defender into the goal for the 2-0 Pirates lead.
Vetterl credits a tough non-conference schedule as preparing the Pirates for the postseason and stiffer competition.
“All I have to say is the schedule we had this year completely helped us out,” Vetterl said. “There is no doubt that the two games we played against Clayton, Fuquay-Varina, (Wilson) Hunt, Fike completely made us tougher, stronger and knowing that we can play with anyone — I think the belief is there.
“It feels wonderful. It’s history and it’s nice. That’s what we want; we want to build the program as best as we can.”