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As long as its defense will permit, the Hunt High varsity girls soccer team intends to stay around for some time in the 2019 North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
The start of postseason play Tuesday night provided for the continuation of a tried-and-true script for the Big East Conference champions, as the Lady Warriors dominated possession and faced little resistance in the run of play from Charles B. Aycock after senior leading scorer Kayla Spier went down in the opening minutes with a knee injury.
An already-defensive minded Lady Golden Falcons side was forced to relay exclusively on the counterattack, and Hunt senior Sophia Fox beat the CBA defense twice in the opening half en route to a 3-0 victory. It was the 10th shutout of the year for the Lady Warriors.
“We feel very confident with our defense,” Hunt head coach Richard Frazier said. “It was just a matter of time. We had some really good looks. Their keeper played very, very well and made several exceptional saves in the first half. It made it a little difficult for us. I think once we got that second goal, it kind of loosened up.”
Hunt, winning for the 14th time in its last 15 matches, improved to 14-2 as the No. 3 seed in the East region. The Lady Warriors have shut out eight of their last nine opponents by a 29-2 margin, with the only exception being a 2-0 loss to Clayton on April 12. Assured of at least three home games if it prevails in the second round, Hunt will take on No. 19 seed Pittsboro Northwood, which dispatched No. 14 Cleveland 4-1 in other first-round action Tuesday. The game is expected to take place at 6 p.m. Friday.
C.B. Aycock, the No. 30 seed and tied for fourth in the split Eastern Carolina Conference, finished at 7-9-2.
With Spier lost to a knee injury and a feared ACL tear in the opening two minutes, Hunt proceeded to dominated possession and generate eight shots on frame. Hunt’s speed, led by Fox and sophomore Kristen Armstrong, generated 10 corner kicks.
While early corners didn’t find success, the Lady Warriors pressed forward with their runs and found creases in the Aycock defensive third. In the 11th minute, senior midfielder Sarah Mercer started Hunt in transition and sent the ball down the far sideline to Armstrong. Fox cut to the middle of the field, leaving Armstrong room to slide a pass across the middle. Fox collected and sent it by a diving CBA keeper in McKenzie Norris, putting the Lady Warriors up 1-0.
CBA’s counter-based attack failed to generated a single shot in the opening half. The Lady Falcons drew a corner in the final minute, but the resulting kick failed to enter the field of play.
As Hunt dominated the action in the first half, Frazier called for a second tally before halftime. Exquisitely, he received his wish. Fox timed her run beautifully and met the pass from Mercer, remaining onside and getting a one-on-one with Norris. Fox slotted it away for her second goal, sending the Lady Warriors up 2-0 at the half.
“Me and Kristen have great chemistry,” Fox said. “We’re good at passing the ball on one-twos off of each other, and she’s good at doing balls across the face of the goal.”
Hunt senior goalkeeper Rachel Cox was forced into just one save off a free kick. CBA had a pair of opportunities near the Lady Warriors’ penalty area in the second half. After a foul in the 56th minute, sophomore Haley Martin stepped up to take the kick and sent it past the Hunt wall, but Cox was there to snare the line drive. A 64th-minute free kick by Martin on the fringe of the area sailed high.
“You can go on MaxPreps and see they don’t give up many goals,” CBA head coach Paul Casey said of Hunt. “For us, we’re a more defensive team and was hoping we could score a couple goals and have a chance tonight. My starting forward and leading goal scorer, Hannah Speir went out in the first two minutes of the game, and we lost her. She’s my leading goal scorer and a leader on the team. Then, all we could do is pretty much defense and try to get something going.”
The Lady Warriors put away their third and final goal with 11:15 to go, with freshman Catherine Cranford sending a flick into the box for Armstrong. She collected and sent it past Norris, who finished with 12 saves, for the final margin.
Hunt received quality play in the midfield from the likes of senior Mckenzie Hinnant, sophomore Rachel Langley, junior Abbigail Beamon, senior Miriam Herrera, senior Camile Ruiz, sophomore Mackenzie Tyson, freshman Kendall Philpott and freshman Kaley Gesell.
“Our defense has been stout all year,” Frazier said. “As you can tell as I was coaching today, there were some points that we need to shore up on decision making on offense and defense. We’ll address those before our next game.”