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On a handful of occasions, stoppage in play resulted when Fike High varsity girls soccer players spilled onto the cold Hunt High pitch. Other players battled cramps.
With approximately seven minutes remaining and the archrivals deadlocked at 2-2 in Wednesday night’s showdown for outright possession of the 3-A Big East Conference lead, interim Fike head coach Chris Mizelle said to nearby senior standout Reily Nelson: “We need one; we don’t want overtime.”
Nelson, who will continue her career at Western Carolina University, heard the request of a coach concerned about his team’s physical plight. She delivered.
With under 2 1/2 minutes showing, Nelson took a pass from senior Claire Dixon near midfield, broke free, sped toward the Hunt goal and Lady Warriors junior goalkeeper Rachael Cox. Cox charged out of goal and Nelson cranked a shot off the left post that caromed toward the right and into the net, sending the Lady Golden Demons to a scintillating 3-2 victory.
Nelson wound up with a hat trick (three goals) as Fike hiked its conference record to 5-0 and evened its overall record at 5-5. The Lady Warriors of first-year head coach Richard Frazier lost for the first time in five conference outings and slid to 6-4-1 against all foes.
Both teams kick off the second half of conference play Thursday, with Fike opposing Southern Nash and Hunt testing Northern Nash.
Thus, Mizelle’s decision clicked to move the speed-blessed Nelson from midfield to up top the second half.
“I get one right once in a while,” Mizelle quipped. “It paid off. (Nelson) is one of those special players. Her speed is a great quality, but she also reads the game well. All three finishes were composed and her speed was not that much of a factor.”
Said Nelson of the switch: “I felt comfortable up there. I like it when we play long and I run onto it. I just like being able to run, and I really don’t have a good shot.”
The Lady Warriors were certainly aware of the threat posed by Nelson, but Frazier reasoned: “She’s a special player. We played well and defended well for the most part. But a special player makes special plays.”
Standout Hunt senior Bailey Hardison noted she has played soccer with Nelson at different levels for numerous years, and assured: “She’s an amazing player. She has great footwork, is fast and, all-in-all, is a great player.”
The combination of Dixon to Nelson clicked for the first goal in the 11th minute.
Offsides negated a Hunt goal, but the Lady Warriors drew even at 1-1 when junior Camille Ruiz’s shot slipped through the hands of junior Fike goalkeeper Jah’Asia Pernell.
Despite bonafide attempts from Hardison, sophomore Abigail Alexander and Ruiz of Hunt and junior Elizabeth Thompson of Fike, the 1-1 standoff stood at intermission.
Hunt, in the second half, unveiled an offensive weapon in the form of the powerful right foot of junior Miriam Herrera, a transfer from Beddingfield.
With some six minutes elapsed, Herrera, from some 45 yards away, pounded a kick to just in front of the left side of the Fike goal which was headed into the net by sophomore Carolina Vazquez.
Nifty teamwork enabled the Lady Demons to knot the score at 2-2 with some 25 minutes left. Nelson worked the ball to freshman Payton Lentz, who flicked the ball back to Nelson for a shot past the lunging Cox.
Pernell and her defense of sophomore Riley Patterson, Lentz, sophomore Meredith Murphy, sophomore Vallery Gore and senior Mikayla Atkinson were sternly tested the rest of the way on threats posed by junior Sarah Mercer, Hardison, junior Sophia Fox, high-scoring freshman Kristen Armstrong and Herrera.
Cox and her back line of senior Madison Bass, Herrera, senior Makala Brown and sophomore Alea Jones were not shabby in repelling the Lady Demons.
However, Nelson simply got the word from Mizelle.
“This is always an emotional game,” she said. “And they were a good team. We didn’t play bad, but we can play a lot better. But this is very satisfying for multiple reasons.”
Those reasons included the suspended status of veteran head coach Toni Varacchi.
Mizelle lauded Frazier, adding: “Hunt played a great game; they were definitely prepared. But I think that makes it a bit sweeter. This is not only a rivalry game but the most competitive game we have in the conference.”
Frazier reminded his Lady Warriors are “very young,” and continued: “The effort tonight was very pleasing — other than the result. We have a lot of people that can score goals and we just try to take what teams give us. I thought we outshot them and created more opportunities. Their keeper made a lot of good saves.”
Hardison declared the soccer ball simply did not bounce Hunt’s way.
“We played good, but we had a few breakdowns that allowed them to get goals,” she reviewed.
“It sucks. Coming out here and losing your first conference game doesn’t feel good. It was a typical Hunt-Fike game.”