Leesville Road’s girls soccer team took another step toward defending their state title on Friday night with a comeback 2-1 win over Apex in the second round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs.
The Pride (24-1-1), champions of the Cap Eight Conference, claimed their second win of the season over the Cougars (13-7-1) after previously defeating the third-seeded Tri-Nine squad 2-0 in the regular season.
But Leesville coach Paul Dinkenor said this match was much tougher for his team.
“Apex was seriously ready to play,” Dinkenor said. “I don’t think it was one of our prettiest wins, but defensively we gutted it out.”
Apex struck first at the 20-minute mark in the first half when junior striker Paige Reckert sent in a laser on a 20-yard free-kick attempt. Leesville sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Wooten jumped to her left and fumbled the strike, letting the ball roll into the net and sparking a Cougar celebration.
Then the Pride woke up.
“Being down a goal can either frustrate a team and put them down, or they can turn around and come back and fight,” said Leesville senior Caroline Gentry. “There’s been a lot of games where we’ve been down and had to come back. I hate that it takes that sometimes, but I think that makes an incentive for us to come back [on offense] even harder.”
Leesville’s offensive pressure caused two Apex starters to draw yellow cards.
The Pride took advantage with 8:34 left in the half, when freshman Jordan Moreno evened the score with a perfectly placed lob.
Apex junior goalkeeper Megan Miller came to the top of the box to defend a pass from Pride senior sweeper Courtney Johnson, but Moreno reached the ball first and tapped it over Miller into the net.
Neither team broke through again until the second half, when the Pride took the lead for good on another key pass from Johnson.
Less than four minutes into the second half, Johnson sent a cross into the penalty box.
Then all chaos broke loose.
Miller and a mix of Cougars and Pride players went up to claim possession, but the head of Leesville sophomore Bayley Rigsbee emerged to pass the ball to junior Claire Coward, who easily tapped it in the back of the net from close range between two Cougar defenders.
“That’s how soccer goes sometimes,” Gentry said. “[The ball] just bounces around, you get lucky and it goes in. But hey, a goal is a goal.”
The Cougars had several chances to tie it up in the final minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net again against the Pride, who will move on to face either East Chapel Hill or Wakefield in the third round.
“It was like playoff soccer, there wasn’t a lot of pretty touches going on out there,” Dinkenor said. “But we’ll take it. It’s good to still be alive.”