Leesville Road coach Paul Dinkenor likes to remind people the Pride is “not a one-player” girls’ soccer team.
After Caroline Gentry scored two goals in overtime to lead Leesville Road to a 3-1 victory in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A playoffs, he could have fooled East Chapel Hill.
Gentry’s goals, just 52 seconds apart in the first overtime at Wildcat Stadium propelled Leesville Road (25-1-1) into a fourth-round matchup. The Pride, the defending NCHSAA 4A champions, expect to see nationally-ranked Green Hope in the next round.
“When you’re one of just four seniors on a team, you’re expected to step up in the big moments,” said Gentry, an N.C. State University signee.
Starting a ninth-grader, two sophomores and a junior along its back line, East Chapel Hill (15-6-4) barely had time to breathe before Gentry assisted on sophomore Bayley Rigsbee’s goal just 8:20 into the match. Gentry launched a ball across the six-yard box to Rigsbee, who slammed it low into the middle of the net for a 1-0 Leesville Road lead.
“You’re just getting started and you look up to find 22 (Gentry) on your flank,” East Chapel Hill coach Mark Kadlecik said. “That’s tough for anyone, let alone a young player.”
East Chapel Hill answered in the 56th minute, when University of North Carolina signee Hanna Gardner dribble into the top of the penalty area and slid it back to fellow senior Katy Pugliese, who ran onto the pass and booted from the top of the arc to just inside the far post.
“That’s been our story all year,” Kadlecik said. “We start slow and then we have to fight our way back.”
Playing in overtime for just the second time this year, Leesville Road quickly ended the Wildcats’ hopes for an upset with two scores within the first eight minutes of extra play.
“We have a legacy of toughness and we don’t take anyone for granted,” Dinkenor said. “We certainly didn’t take East Chapel Hill for granted.”
Pride sophomore Mary Kate Bowers chipped a ball forward to ninth-grader Mackenzie Dipper, who headed it over to Gentry near the far post. Gentry tapped in the game-winner with 3:45 remaining in the first OT.
Gentry added an insurance score, her 30th goal of the year, with 2:53 remaining in the first OT by beating a defender inside the penalty area and firing a ball low inside the near post.
“We looked strong in overtime,” Dinkenor said. “I was proud of our mentality and the way we played.”
Leesville Road held East Chapel Hill to just one shot in the two, 10-minute overtimes and out-shot the Wildcats 23-9 for the game.
Dinkenor praised his young defenders, especially juniors Nicole Gooch and Rachel Radulovich, for helping to mark Gardner and limiting her to just two good opportunities.
“Caroline is an All-American, and she has a lot of goals … but she’s still a team player,” Dinkenor said.