After finally tying the score midway through the second half and causing more than a few anxious moments for Fike defenders not long after, Corinth Holders had the look of a team poised to move on and continue its quest for a N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A girls soccer title.
That is, until Fike’s Emilee Futrell received a well-placed pass from teammate Elery Williams and touched a low shot past Corinth Holders goalie Rachel Witkin with 4 minutes, 49 seconds remaining to propel the visiting Demons to a 2-1 victory on Wednesday over the Pirates.
The game-winner, Futrell’s second goal of the game, helped Pike (13-4-2) avenge a 2-0 regular-season loss to Corinth Holders and more importantly advance to a fourth-round game at Jacksonville on Saturday.
For a stretch late in the second half, it looked like it instead might be Corinth Holders that would be facing Jacksonville.
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The Pirates, the No. 3 seed in the East region, tied the score at 1 with 16:09 remaining after Lexie Chase sent a cross from the left corner toward the right side of the box to RoseMarie Fitzpatrick, who delivered a waste-high kick of the ball to easily beat Fike goalie Lexus Caster for the equalizer.
Over the ensuing 10 minutes, Corinth Holders continued to administer significant offensive pressure, producing its best opportunity when Carolina Solis had the ball alone just inside the left side of the box only to have the sophomore not miss by too much on a shot that went high and wide right with about 5½ minutes to go.
However, moments later Williams would send a pass up ahead to Futrell, who beat a defender before taking a shot from the edge of the box that bounced past Witkin and into the left side of the net for a 2-1 lead.
Corinth Holders had one more good chance to score, but Erica Boswell’s header off a corner kick with a little under three minutes remaining sailed a few feet wide right.
“They were playing really fast, going hard, we just had to calm down,” Futrell said of Corinth’s play preceeding her game-winning goal. “When (Williams’) ball just got played through, I had to finish it.”
Corinth Holders coach Allison Vetterl conceded that Futrell’s winning goal surprised her considering her team’s quality of play leading up to it.
“It’s a blow, no doubt,” Vetterl said. “You feel like you’re putting that pressure on that needs to be put on. We kept doing it and doing it. We were there, we just couldn’t get it in.”
Corinth Holders controlled much of the play in the first half, though both teams did garner significant scoring opportunities.
Sixth-seeded Fike nearly scored 10 minutes into play when Williams’ shot from about 20 yards out on the right side hit both the crossbar and the left post before getting cleared by a Corinth Holders defender. The Pirates had their best scoring chance when Boswell gained possession just a few yards from the goal but could only muster a shot that went straight at Caster.
Fike eventually struck first when Futrell got past the defense and boomed a shot from nearly 30 yards away that just snuck underneath the crossbar and above the outstretched arms of Witkin with 12:41 to go in the first half.
Fike nearly made it 2-0 a few minutes later when Williams outran two defenders to corral a loose ball and booted a shot toward the far left post only to have Witkin make a fine diving stop to deny the goal.
“It was great to have (Corinth Holders) have to fight back instead of us having to be on our heels,” Fike coach Toni Varacchi said. “When we played them earlier in the year on March 16, we gave up a goal in the last five minutes (of each half).
“We knew it could be a game that could go either way.”
The game marked the final high school contest for Corinth Holders seniors Witkin, Mackenzie Jenkins, Maddy Gladwell, and Amanda Eckard. With a plethora of starters likely to return next season, another strong postseason run would appear to be a strong possibility for the Pirates.
“There was no die in us … I’m extremely proud of them,” Vetterl said. “They were a great team, it was tough trying to beat them again.”