Given the teams’ proclivity for offensive production, it was no surprise that the scoreboard operator remained busy during Monday’s showdown between Southern Lee and host Rocky Mount in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A girls soccer playoffs.
But while Southern Lee stopped finding the net after a prolific first half, the Gryphons maintained a torrid pace en route to earning a 7-3 decision over the Cavaliers.
The score was tied 3-3 at intermission, but Rocky Mount (16-4-1) pulled away with four unanswered goals in the second half to move into a third-round home match Wednesday against Jacksonville – the same club that eliminated the Gryphons last year.
“I think our girls save our opponent too much respect and in the first half,” said Rocky Mount assistant Zach Shaikh, who shares coaching responsibilities with Richard Oxendine. “Once we saw how effectively we could get the ball forward, we were very dangerous. We created plenty of room and had good support (on the ball).”
The back-and-forth opening half featured six goals, with Southern Lee (15-6-1) coming up with the equalizer off a nice rush that culminated with the final goal in the bountiful career of Laurynn Ansted with 7:36 remaining before the break.
Rocky Mount moved ahead for good off a laser from Erin Cooke less than eight minutes into the second half. The Gryphons would tack on three more goals in a 12-minute stretch to extend their advantage, including two more goals from scoring ace Sarah Bland, who finished with four goals the match.
Bland’s spectacular header off a corner with 18:18 remaining provided an acrobatic capper to close out yet another fireworks-filled evening for Rocky Mount, which has delivered seven or more goals in 10 matches this spring.
The Gryphons will carry an 11-match winning streak into Wednesday’s rematch with perennial powerhouse Jacksonville. Rocky Mount’s last loss came in March against long-standing Big East Conference titan Fike.
Rocky Mount avenged that defeat in convincing 7-2 fashion two weeks later on its way to earning its first Big East title since 2012.
“One thing we have done really well this year is adapting the second time we play an opponent to become more dominant,” said Shaikh, a former player at North Carolina Wesleyan College. “(After the Fike victory), I think the girls began to believe that the conference was there for us to win.”
Southern Lee had a strong campaign under second-year head coach Chris Gill, but the Cavaliers will now have to reload with the pending graduation of nine seniors, including Ansted.
“No coach wants to see the season end in the middle of the playoffs,” Gill said. “But it is incredible what this team has accomplshed. I wouldn’t take any other team over this group of players. There was just a 15-minute stretch in the second half that was the difference. I thought we dominated (territorially) the majority of the first half.”