Jacksonville is back in the regional soccer finals on the strength of a workmanlike effort by CJay Sparks, and some offensive help from Kort Rampe.
Sparks scored two goals and assisted two others to Rampe as the second-seeded Cardinals defeated sixth-seeded Chapel Hill 4-2 on Saturday night in the NCHSAA 3-A East Regional semifinals.
Sparks, a senior, scored both of his goals in the first half while Rampe, also a senior, found the back of the net twice in the final 40 minutes to help the Cardinals advance to the regional final for the 10th consecutive season.
Jacksonville (24-2-1) will play host to No. 9 Cardinal Gibbons (22-2-1) on Tuesday for the right to play in the state championship game. Cardinal Gibbons topped No. 5 Wilson Hunt 2-1 on Saturday.
Chapel Hill ended 20-5-1 after falling to the Cardinals in the regional semifinals for the second straight year. The Tigers lost 1-0 to JHS last year.
I think we played the full 80 minutes tonight as best as we could, Rampe said. I just think we played the game very well tonight.
Jacksonville built leads of 2-0 and 4-1, although the game hardly felt out of reach for Chapel Hill. Each time the Tigers scored, they appeared rejuvenated, and had other runs toward the net to get other goals, only to come up empty.
We did well after they scored, Sparks said. We kept our heads.
Jacksonville extended its lead to 4-1 on Rampes two second-half goals, but Chapel Hill got within 4-2 with 8:26 remaining on an unassisted goal by junior John Walden following a corner kick.
The Tigers pushed hard for a third goal in the final stretch but couldnt get closer.
Weve been down in other games before earlier in the year, Chapel Hill first-year coach Jason Curtis said. This team doesnt quit. It doesnt matter if we get down two early against a great team. I was proud of them for making a game of it. But hats off to Jacksonville.
Sparks scored twice to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead before Chapel Hill senior Mateo Ortez cut the deficit in half with 16:17 left before halftime after he played the ball in front of the right post after a defender attempted to play it back to goalkeeper Billy Bodette.
We had a little bit of momentum and if we would have gotten the next one, who knows, we might still be playing, Curtis said. But thats how it goes.
Chapel Hill had the edge and made good runs toward the goal late in the first half with hopes of getting an equalizer but did not convert.
I felt the boys handled it well and kept doing what we were doing, Jacksonville coach Dave Miller said. We really didnt give them another look in the first half and we were able to get two in the second half to keep going.
Sparks gave Jacksonville early momentum and a 1-0 lead when he scored just 3:46 into the match after heading in a cross from the left side from Jacob Gillespie. As the ball sailed through the air, Sparks ran toward the right post before directing the ball to the far side of the net past Chapel Hill goalkeeper Hugh Kelly.
Jake got a good cross on it over the keeper and I put it back across the goal so the keeper couldnt get to it, Sparks said. I thought we had a lot of good counterattacks and played a lot of throughballs, and when we worked out wide we got some good crossed in that helped us open up the scoring.
Sparks then made it 2-0 with 24:06 remaining in the opening half after he played a throughball from Chris Tziatzos and scored one-on-one with Kelly.
No. 10, what a finisher. Holy cow, Curtis said. He is a difference maker.
Rampe, playing in his first playoff game this season after drawing a red card in the final regular-season game, then added two goals in the second half to help the Cardinals build a 4-1 lead. His first goal came seven minutes in after he finished a cross from the right side from Sparks. Rampe entered with four goals.
I felt Ive been on a curse and that I couldnt score, Rampe said. When I finally got it, I was so happy.
Rampe, though, wasnt done.
He scored with 25:41 remaining off another assist from Sparks to make it 4-1. After playing the ball from Ryan Brennan, Sparks got past a defender along left side and dribbled toward the middle, only to be taken down by Kelly near the top of the 18.
The official did not call a foul since the ball squirted to Rampe along the right corner for an uncontested goal.
I was definitely surprised, Rampe said. It was one of the easiest goals.
The Cardinals, however, know their match with Cardinal Gibbons wont be easy as they try to advance to the state final for the third consecutive season.
Its going to be a tough game, Sparks said. It should be a good game, but we have home field advantage.
Chapel Hill 1 1 2
Jacksonville 2 2 4
GOALS C: Ortez, Walden. J: Sparks 2, Rampe 2. ASSISTS C: None. J: Sparks 2, Gillespie, Tziatzos. IN GOAL C: Kelly (2 saves). J: Bodette (2 saves). SHOTS ON GOAL C 4, J 6. CORNER KICKS C 4, J 0. RECORDS C: 20-5-1, season complete. J: 24-2-1, hosts Cardinal Gibbons on Tuesday in regional final, time TBA.