There have not been many instances where West Johnston’s undefeated girls soccer team has found itself having to battle-from-behind to pick up a victory. It has also been rare that the Wildcats have found themselves on the brink of defeat in the final minute.
Both instances occurred Wednesday, as West needed a last-minute miracle to force overtime, and then pulled away in the extra sessions to hand determined Knightdale a 4-2 Greater Neuse River 4A Conference defeat.
With the win, West Johnston improved to 14-0-2 overall and remained atop the GNRC standings with a 7-0-1 record. Knightdale, which had hoped to avenge an earlier 8-1 pasting at the feet of the Wildcats, exited 5-6 overall and 4-3 in conference play.
Down 2-1 with the clock ticking into the match’s final minute, the Wildcats found the lucky four-leaf clover it needed on the Knights’ pitch when senior midfielder Kristen Power sent a through ball to junior forward Mallory Barton on the right side of the field.
Barton outraced a trio of Knights defenders to the goal and pushed a shot past Chelsea Jones with 50.5 seconds left, tying the score at 2 and forcing a pair of 10-minute overtime periods.
Then, in overtime, Power sent a ball deep into the Knight defensive third, which a streaking Barton corralled, carried forward and fired into the left side of the net, giving the Wildcats the go ahead goal with 3:32 remaining in the first extra period.
“Knightdale was very well-coached, very disciplined tonight,” said West coach Reid Byrd. “We had a hard time. They (Knights) came with the intentions of winning the game, and they played that way.”
The Knights displayed that intention with qualification midway through the first half, taking a 1-0 lead on a through ball to Carly Mounts, who beat Wildcats goalkeeper Hannah Stephenson.
They continued to show grit and determination, limiting quality shots by the Wildcats in the first half, carrying the lead into intermission despite playing a majority of the half in their defensive third.
West picked up its attack, if not its overall intensity from the opening whistle of the second half, but the Knights stiffened defensively, allowing only one quality shot on goal, a blast by Barton from inside the box that was stopped by Jones seven minutes into the period.
The Wildcats began peppering shots 15 minutes into the half, only to become more frustrated with each attempt. Madison Covey hit the post with just under 24 minutes left, with one rebound shot by West blocked in the goal crease and another sailing over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, West hit the crossbar from 35 yards out, with another rebound shot sailing over the bar.
The Wildcats continued to pressure Knightdale’s goal, and were rewarded on a goal from Power with 17 minutes to play.
The celebration was short-lived, however, with the Knights applying their own pressure, and reclaiming the lead on a left-to-right blast by Taylor Ward with 14:54 remaining for the 2-1 advantage.
With their unbeaten marks on the line, the Wildcats brought more passion into the final ten minutes, only to be turned away time and again by the Knights - until Barton’s blast which forced the overtime.
Then came Barton’s go-ahead goal, then an insurance goal from Heather Bittle with 90 seconds left in the second overtime period, on a rebound off a shot by Becky Meshaw.
Bittle’s shot rolled off Jones’ hands and into the goal.
“It took a lot from our girls to overcome their (Knights) determination,” Byrd said. “I’m glad to see our girls be able to come from behind, because we are going to need that when playoffs roll around.”