The neck-and-neck race between Mount Airy and East Surry for second place in the Northwest Conference soccer standings had one final twist on Tuesday night.
Two lead changes and two ties set up a 2-2 deadlock into the final minutes of the match, but East Surry’s Mary Jo Lowe supplied the Lady Cardinals (11-9-1, 8-2) with a game-winning goal with 1:43 remaining to clinch the 3-2 win.
Mount Airy (10-9-2, 6-4) came into the match looking to force a second-place tie in the standings, but the East Surry victory means the Cardinals will avoid a coin-flip to determine the Northwest’s second seed in the NCHSAA playoffs that start next week.
“I didn’t have to talk about it because everyone knew what was at stake,” East Surry coach Bill Hart said. “The only motivation speech I have to give before a game like this is, ‘It’s Mount Airy.’”
The East Surry win came with a bit of controversy at the end. The final goal came when Lowe intercepted a pass and broke through the Mount Airy defense for a one-on-one opportunity against Mount Airy goalie Ailia Halpern.
Lowe took a heavy touch and the ball rolled to Halpern, who slid to the ground looking to gain possession. However, Lowe poked the ball out of Halpern’s grasp, rounded the keeper and slotted the winning goal into an empty net.
Mount Airy coach Will Hurley thought that Lowe interfered with Halpern’s right to the ball, and Hurley was furious with the referee’s decision not to blow his whistle for a foul.
“The keeper had possession of the ball, clearly a foul, (Halpern) was kicked in the head and the ball rolls into the goal. That was ridiculous,” Hurley said. “(The referee) just said she never had possession.”
Hurley’s squad got off to a tremendous start on Tuesday with an opening goal less than two minutes into the match. High pressure from Jaden Brinkley forced an East Surry turnover, and Brinkley whipped in an awkward cross into the box. East Surry goalie Maggie Collins couldn’t decide whether to attack the cross or sit back, and Allie Sechrist capitalized with a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner of the net.
Mount Airy held this 1-0 advantage throughout the opening 40 minutes, but East Surry was a completely different team in the second half. The Lady Cardinals pushed higher up the field and were more precise with their passes, and Elyssa Jones found an equalizer six minutes after halftime.
“I told the girls at halftime that we were playing like 11 soccer players, rather than one team,” Coach Hart said. “As long as we come together and play as one team, I told them we would pull it out.”
East Surry kept the pressure on, and took a lead with 28 minutes remaining in the match. Laura Gomez caught Halpern a little too far off her line, and Gomez chipped a beautiful shot over the Mount Airy keeper’s outstretched arms for a 2-1 advantage.
Mount Airy didn’t go down without a fight, though, and after supplying an assist in the first half, Brinkley tied the match with a right-footed shot in the 70th minute. The goal was set up with tenacious pressure by Kaylee George.
But Lowe’s goal proved came too late for Mount Airy to find another response. Lowe supplied a hat trick in East Surry’s 3-0 win over Mount Airy earlier this year, and she once again was able to break the Lady Bears’ hearts on Tuesday.
“(Lowe) is just more athletic than anyone else on the field,” Coach Hart said. “You can’t teach that, and it was just a matter of will on that last goal.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16