Monday would have been a good day for the Mount Airy soccer team to play the lottery.
“I think that was us today…lucky,” said coach Will Hurley of his team’s 1-0 win over visiting South Stokes.
The Lady Bears struggled for much of the non-conference showdown, but managed to pull out a victory despite being badly outplayed for long stretches of the match. The Lady Bears took the lead on a 35-yard free kick by Baylee Greenwood that sailed over South Stokes keeper Mary Weaver’s head with 16:03 remaining, and managed to hang on the rest of the way.
Hanging on was the theme of the day for Mount Airy. The Lady Bears were outshot badly and allowed the Lady Sauras (6-9) to have possession of the ball for roughly two-thirds of the evening. Their only saving grace, such as it was, was a strong effort from goalkeeper Ailia Halpern and some impressive defensive recoveries from back-line defenders Jessica Miranda, Haley France and Greenwood at key moments of the contest.
That, and a lot of good luck. Mount Airy made enough mistakes in the midfield and on defense to lose three matches.
“I think skill-wise, we’re just as good as they are, but we did not play very well at all,” said Hurley. “Hopefully, we can play well tomorrow, because if we don’t, we’re in trouble.”
The teams battled to a scoreless draw in the first half, as the Lady Bears (7-7-2) continued to play the same mercurial offense that had doomed them in last week’s 3-0 loss to rival East Surry. The first Mount Airy shot on goal didn’t come until the 11th minute, and it came off the foot of Miranda, who had come up from the back. It would be more than 17 minutes before the Lady Bears had another serious opportunity.
In the meantime, South Stokes pressed the attack. In the 24th minute, the Lady Sauras earned two corner kicks in a matter of about 20 seconds. The first one was earned when Stokes’ Anna-Kate Cheek broke free down the home side of the field, only to have Miranda kick the ball away, past the end line. Halpern swatted away the first corner. On the second one, the ball settled in front of the net and the only thing that saved Mount Airy was that it settled in front of France, who booted it away from the goal in the direction of Greenwood, who cleared it.
With 12:16 left in the first half, the Lady Bears got another chance, but Allie Sechrist’s shot sailed wide right.
Halpern made an outstanding play with about six minutes left in the opening half, when the Lady Sauras’ Lilly Weaver took a close-in shot that the keeper deflected, but couldn’t cover up. The ball ricocheted to the other side of the net, where Cheek fired from about 10 yards into an apparently open net—only to see the Halpern save the day with diving save to her right at the last second.
“Ailia played great. She had to,” said Hurley. “They possessed the ball a lot more than we did.”
The second half brought more trouble, as South Stokes realized that Mount Airy was struggling to control the midfield and began kicking long balls deep into Lady Bears’ defensive end. Disaster nearly struck seven minutes in, when the Lady Sauras’ Madison Green won the race to such a ball and had an uncontested shot at Halpern from eight yards away. Somehow, she reacted in time to knock the ball away, but it rebounded in front of the goal in the direction of Weaver. Fortunately, Mount Airy’s Gabbi Troutman got there first.
Green got another uncontested shot on a long ball with 26:28 to play, and again Halpern made the stop. Stokes had a 5-1 edge in second-half shots on goal at this point. Improved midfield play from Jaden Brinkley and Kora Ledezma helped the home team’s cause, but the Lady Sauras remained in the ascendant.
“We did a better job in the second half of matching them, but we still did some stuff that was scary,” said Hurley.
At 23:36 to go, Greenwood took a free kick for her team from about 20 yards out. The keeper saved it, but Ledezma and then Judy Madrigal kept the ball in play and both were foiled as well before Stokes cleared it and went the other way, where two and a half minutes later, Miranda and Greenwood each broke up potential scoring chances for the Lady Sauras.
The big moment came five minutes after that, when Greenwood took a free kick following a handball 35 yards from the Stokes goal. The freshman’s perfectly placed kick sailed over Weaver’s head and gave the Lady Bears an improbable lead.
Hurley took few chances the rest of the way, pulling both Greenwood and Ledezma back into the defensive end. Even so, the Lady Bears barely hung on in the face of furious South Stokes attacks. With 9:40 to play, Green clanged a shot off the right post. At 1:35, Halpern had to grab a hard shot off the foot of Jessica Bray that looked dangerous. Mount Airy made a mistake in the final minute that gave the Lady Sauras a corner kick, but Greenwood disrupted it and forced Cheek into a difficult shot, which she sent over the net. Mount Airy cleared the ball on a goal kick and time expired.
The Lady Bears return to Northwest 1A Conference action this evening at home against Atkins.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.