Carrboro had everything they could handle on Wednesday night at home in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A girls soccer playoffs against First Flight High from Kill Devil Hills. But a late penalty kick goal by Elizabeth Cato gave Carrboro a 1-0 victory, sending the two-time reigning champions into the next round.
It looked like Carrboro had gotten on the board moments before Cato’s eventual goal when Gabby Adams banged home a rebound created by Kiara Hallows, but the goal was waved off.
After some confusion, Carrboro was awarded a penalty kick as the referee called a foul on First Flight goalkeeper Codie Patterson for holding Hallows.
“I saw the ball go into the back of the net and I was pretty happy,” said Carrboro coach Jared Drexler. “Then there was a pause before they called the PK.”
Cato stepped up to take the penalty and made no mistake, getting Patterson to go left after a hesitation kick that sent the ball right.
“I always go in the same place every time,” said Cato. “In my head I was just saying, ‘I know I can do this. I hit it the same place every time in practice and it goes in.’ I was just trying to calm myself down before I was pretty nervous.”
Cato’s goal was all the Jaguars’ defense needed, keeping the ball at midfield for the majority of the game, cutting off passing lanes, and limiting First Flight to five shots at the goal, with only one on target.
“We’re really connected defensively,” said Cato, who is one of four senior defenders on the team. “We all come together, support each other, and play for each other. It just works.”
Drexler called this victory, “a gutsy effort” by his team in the 90 degree weather. The game was stopped multiple times for cramping as the heat got the better of a couple of players throughout the game.
“At this point in the season, I wish we could say we were 100 percent healthy, but I don’t think anyone is,” said Drexler. “We’re a little nicked up.”
Being the two-tine defending champions, Drexler knows that his team always has a target on their back, but don’t expect the Jaguars to get complacent.
“We know that teams are going to step it up against us, but we’re the state champions,” he said. “That means a lot and we have to play like state champions at all times. We know that no matter who we face, we need to be at our best because everyone wants to beat us.”
Cato added: “It’s nerve-wracking because everyone expects us to win another one ... Every game counts and every game is going to be hard. We just have to give our best no matter what.”