The Mount Airy girls’ soccer team couldn’t put away visiting Cherokee despite a 4-0 lead midway through the first half of the first round match in the NCHSAA 1A playoffs.
The No. 17 Lady Braves responded with three goals of their own in the first 40 minutes and all the pressure fell back on the Bears in the second half, but No. 16 Mount Airy (11-10-2) held on in the end for a 4-3 victory Wednesday.
“I told their coach after the game that I admired how (Cherokee) played,” Mount Airy coach Will Hurley said. “Normally a 4-0 lead in the first half puts a team out of it, but they fought back and made us work for it today.”
The Lady Bears were off and running just 49 seconds into the match with an opening goal from Ana Contreras. Some solid build-up play resulted in a low cross from Jaden Brinkley to a wide-open Contreras, who calmly poked her shot into the back of the net.
Mount Airy doubled its advantage 10 minutes later on a long-distance shot from freshman Baylee Greenwood. Coach Hurley’s entreaties to shoot from the sideline prompted Greenwood to let a strike fly from about 30 yards out, and the ball took a funny hop before gliding through the Cherokee goalie’s legs for a 2-0 lead.
The early advantage reached 3-0 when Contreras recorded her second goal of the afternoon with 26:19 remaining in the half. Similar to her first goal, Contreras received a perfectly-executed low cross to a position where she simply couldn’t miss. This time, the assist came from Kaylee George.
“We must have worked on that for an hour and a half in practice the other day,” Hurley said. “We came out and did a great job with those crosses, but it’s frustrating that we just stop doing the things that are successful early on.”
The Bears’ final goal of the match was a lofted strike from Kora Ledezma from just outside the penalty box. Greenwood set up the score with a soft pass to keep Mount Airy rolling with 24:23 left in the half, but the wheels fell off shortly after taking a 4-0 lead.
Cherokee got on the board thanks to an own goal less than a minute after Ledezma’s strike. High pressure by the Braves’ Alyssa Land caused the Bear miscue, and Land wasn’t done wrecking havoc on the Mount Airy defense.
Land played a part in each of Cherokee’s next two goals, drawing the foul that set up Sidnie Yanez’ beautiful free kick strike, and scoring the Braves’ third goal of the match in a one-on-one opportunity against keeper Haley France.
Hurley started France in goal because of an eye injury to normal starter Ailia Halpern, but the Mount Airy coach replaced her with Lily Puckett in the final stages of the first half, then inserted Jessica Miranda at goal for the second half.
Miranda did a solid job in relief, recording a pair of saves and making smart decisions to come off her line. Miranda’s pressure on Land during a breakaway opportunity with 30 seconds remaining forced a missed shot and helped preserve the win.
Mount Airy has its hands full in the next round, with a trip south to face top-seeded Community School of Davidson in the second round.
Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, Coach Hurley’s squad got to experience a playoff win this season, something he believes could provide a positive boost to a team filled with youth and inexperience.
“Yeah, I think it was important for the girls to come out here and win a playoff match on their home field,” Hurley said. “They got this feeling, and hopefully will want more of it down the road. Now we get to go play the top team in the state, and you have to win to get there.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16