They had been there before only seven days before.
The No. 4-seeded Chapel Hill girls soccer team trailed by a goal entering the second half against No. 9 Swansboro in the fourth round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
A week before, a furious Chapel Hill offensive led to a flurry of goals and a 5-2, come-from-behind win against Union Pines. Five days after that, Chapel Hill needed another comeback to defeat Northern Guilford, 3-2.
Friday night, the Tigers came up short, falling 1-0 to Swansboro, which advances to a state semifinal game against Carolina Conference rival Jacksonville.
Swansboro’s Caitlyn Bragg scored on only her team’s second shot of the game in the 33rd minute after a cross into the box found her at the far post. Before that, the Pirates (20-5-1) had spent much of the half pinned on defense by Chapel Hill (17-3-2).
“I think we just gutted one out tonight, to be honest with you,” Swansboro head coach Doug Kidd said.
The Tigers came out and immediately put pressure onto the Pirates defense. They played several balls into the box, but whether it was a defender cutting in front of a shot or a Chapel Hill player falling on the wet turf, they could not turn several chances into a goal.
Then in the 24th minute, freshman midfielder Alex Kerr collided with an opponent and went down to the ground. She exited until the 53rd minute in the second half, giving Swansboro the spark of momentum it needed to score nine minutes later.
Swansboro maintained that momentum early into the second half, getting a good look from midfielder Tylor Ring (who assisted on her team’s earlier goal) that was spectacularly deflected away from harm by Chapel Hill keeper Karolina Honkakoski in what would prove to be her final game. But when Kerr checked back into the game, Chapel Hill ratcheted the pressure back up.
“She’s like gazelle, man. She can run forever,” Chapel Hill head coach Jason Curtis said. “And she runs at people. She has no fear. She is a difference maker for sure.”
Kerr ran around and sliced through the Swansboro defense, earning multiple good looks at an equalizing goal. She volleyed a shot too high from five yards in front of the goal and couldn’t get another shot past the keeper after beating two defenders.
Shot after shot missed the net for the Tigers as the clock finally ticked down to zero.
“We were coming, we just ran out of time,” Curtis said.
Swansboro’s defense held tight despite getting rocked early in a physical game with several hard checks. But Kidd was proud of the fortitude his team showed.
“I was a little concerned about how strong we were going to be mentally because they were taking it to us and being physical,” he said. “And then, we womanned up and were a little bit tougher mentally and did a little bit of a better job.”