As her team prepared to take the field for Friday night’s second round North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A girl’s state playoffs soccer match up with visiting Burlington Williams, veteran Fike head coach Toni Varacchi reminded her charges that the game plan was to attack outside-in, and she also reminded them to sprint on the through-balls.
Her first words to the team at the half were, “Clearly, the through ball is working.”
Clearly, coach. Clearly.
In an onslaught reminiscent of the full-court mayhem of legendary Fike coach Harvey Reid’s basketball teams in their 1980’s heyday, the Big East conference champion Lady Golden Demons literally ran the Mid-State Conference runner-up Lady Bulldogs ragged in the opening 40 minutes to sprint to a 5-0 halftime lead before settling for an 8-1 rout. With its 12th-consecutive win, Fike, the No. 6 seed in the East Region, improved to 12-4-2 and moved on to a 3rd-round matchup Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at No. 3 seed Corinth Holders. The Lady Pirates, 2-1 winners over West Carteret Thursday night, were the last team to defeat the Demons, recording a 2-0 triumph at Fike on March 16.
Williams, the No. 11 seed in the East Region, closed its season at 14-5-2.
Varacchi noted after the game that one of her assistants had scouted Williams in its playoff opener, noting that Williams maintained a high line on defense. “We determined that if they kept that high line against us, our best option was to send the ball deep on through shots and try to beat them to the ball,” Varacchi said. “They maintained the high line for the first half, and we were able to attack it.”
In the nascent moments of the game, Williams established itself as the attacker, recording a pair of corner kicks in the first two minutes. That early momentum took a tidal swing two minutes later when Fike junior Emilee Futrell sent the Demons’ first deep through ball, and senior team mate Elery Williams sprinted past a pair of defenders to be first to the ball, beating Williams goal keeper Hannah Sumner in a one-on-one showdown for the first of Williams’ three goals.
Thirteen minutes later, Futrell recorded the first of her three goals, racing nearly the length of the field, pulling ahead of defenders as she dribbled, before also beating Sumner one-on-one.
As the Williams defenders showed even less ability to keep up with Fike’s sprinters, Sumner adjusted her defense further from the goal. When the penalty area proved undefendable, Sumner crept further, eventually challenging Fike’s attack at the very limits of the goal box. Regardless of where she took up her defense, the credible keeper still struggled to slow the onslaught.
Fike sophomore Anne Elliott Taylor was the next Demon to win a sprint, racing to corral senior Hailee Cockrell’s through ball to add her name to the list of one-on-one winners when she tallied midway through the opening half.
Four minutes later, sophomore Claire Dixon served as the long passer. Futrell sent a long one-on-one kick past Sumner from the outer reaches of the goal box for her second tally.
Williams’ second tally closed the first-half scoring when she won the through-ball race, taking Cockrell’s pass before juking Sumner to the ground at the edge of the goal box before firing in an empty-netter.
Despite constant urging from the coaches, Fike’s fire was mostly nonexistent for the first half of the closing period.
“We lacked intensity,” Varacchi said of the second half, “and they played a little deeper on defense”
Futrell scored Fike’s sixth goal on an assist from Williams midway of the second half, but the Bulldogs kept the ball on the Fike end for a good portion of the early part of the half. Williams’ newfound intensity finally paid off when senior Fike keeper Lexus Caster was unable to smother a Burlington shot, batting the ball instead as she went to the ground. Williams’ Kimberly Jara then sprinted a few steps laterally to record the Bulldogs’ only score. Caster recorded saves on Williams’ other four shots.
With ten minutes remaining, Williams recorded her last goal, then she assisted on the final Fike tally when Sumner challenged her just outside of the goal box. Williams tapped a pass around Sumner to sophomore Madeline Richardson who successfully fired front and center on the empty goal.
Fike will now travel to Wendell seeking revenge on the last team to vanquish the Demons.
“Everybody improves as the year goes on,” Varacchi said, “but I like the way we’re playing right now. It was a 2-0 game last night, and those, just like our games with Hunt, can go either way. I like our chances.”