Two games into its first postseason as a 4A school, the No. 2 seed Cardinal Gibbons girls soccer team is riding high.
Facing an opponent from Wake County for the first time this season on Saturday, the Crusaders defeated 18-seed Heritage 3-1 in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs, thanks to a barrage of second half goals.
“It was exciting. We love to play these kinds of games,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Michele Miller said. “Heritage was fantastic. We knew it was going to be a really tight game.”
Winners of 20 consecutive contests, Cardinal Gibbons (21-1) will host a third-round matchup with 26-seed Middle Creek on Wednesday.
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After a scoreless opening half, a trio of freshmen brought the Cardinal Gibbons offense to life.
Midfielder Katilyn Bouck opened the scoring for the Crusaders in the 42nd minute with a strike from well beyond the 18-yard box and the Crusaders doubled their lead 14 minutes later when midfielder Emily Duerr scored her team-leading 13th goal of the season.
Chasing down a service from junior defender Montgomery Cooling, Duerr sneaked past Heritage’s last line of defense and one-timed a shot past senior goalkeeper Sara McInerney.
“I think all of the defenders just thought it was going over, so I was just lucky to have the opportunity to just get it in there,” Duerr said.
Trying to claw its way back into the game, Heritage (12-7-2) responded with a goal of its own in the 65th minute on a corner kick as freshman midfielder Fain Buete’s header put the Huskies on the board.
But Cardinal Gibbons answered back less than a minute later with a goal from forward Maggie Pierce, whose low-to-the-ground effort rolled into the bottom left corner of the net.
All freshmen, Duerr, Bouck and Pierce have played big roles for Cardinal Gibbons in 2016, scoring a combined 30 goals.
Despite their youthfulness, Duerr said she and her fellow freshmen have been able to step right in and contribute because of the Crusaders’ team chemistry.
“Sometimes freshmen might feel out of place on their team, but I think that because we’re so integrated with everyone else it’s easy for us to click with each other,” Duerr said.
Heritage coach Scott Sloan thought his team played a good first half, but said Cardinal Gibbons’ skill proved to be the difference as the game went on.
“We were excited and enthusiastic. As the game wore on, the skill players from Cardinal Gibbons stepped up and did what they were supposed to do,” Sloan said. “The energy was there. I just think on this night, skill was probably just a bit better than work.”
Despite the loss, Sloan saw this season as a step in the right direction and was particularly happy with the way the Huskies played over the past few weeks.
“We had a nice little roll the last few weeks of the season and built some really good momentum,” Sloan said. “We looked great against Millbrook, looked phenomenal against East Chapel Hill and I thought for 40 minutes tonight, we looked pretty good.”