After falling in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2A girls soccer playoffs in 2018, the Wilkes Central Eagles managed to do what they were unable to in the previous year.
The No. 3-seed Eagles defeated Patton 6-1 at the Rivers Edge Sports Complex in Wilkesboro on Friday to advance to the third round.
“I was really expecting the dog fight that it was, because they (Patton) played in many one goal games,” stated Wilkes Central Head Coach Jim Caudill. “They’re a blue collar team, they work hard and they won’t give up. I was telling my girls ‘please match their intensity’ because abilities will climb over if you don’t match that intensity and we could be on the bad end of the stick.”
The Eagles didn’t disappoint and came out with a high level of intensity, a dominant performance on both sides.
Offensively, junior Kaylin Bang, who scored two goals and assisted on another, led a patient, yet aggressive attack. Wilkes Central outshot the Panthers 31-10 on the night and had 17 shots on goal, compared to Patton’s two.
Defensively, the backline was successful of denying many runs to the box, preventing shots on goal and forcing No. 19 Patton into long passes that led to turnovers. The Eagles gave up a lone goal in the second half for their only blemish of the match.
“To have a dynamic trio up there — Bang, (Zoe) Susi and (Makenna) Freeman — it just does wonders for us,” said Caudill about their offensive attack. “And then the back line doing a great job, they’re tweaking out mistakes so that we limit them.”
Wilkes Central (21-0) wasted little time to take control of the game, going into attack early and often. In just the fourth minute of the match the Eagles took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Bang. Freeman fielded a goal kick from the Panthers and headed it up to Susi, who sent a through pass to the left for Bang. The junior then sent a strike past the diving keeper.
A few minutes later Bang returned the favor. She stormed ahead up the left side of the pitch, fighting off a defender, and put a through pass to the middle of the box. Susi fielded the pass and netted it for an early 2-0 advantage.
The Eagles took a 3-0 lead only 19 minutes into the match as Sarah Lowe got into the action. The freshman took possession in the midfield and went to work, weaving through traffic up the middle, before sending a strike to the left of the keeper, giving the Panthers a big hole to climb out of.
Wilkes Central continued to control the pace by keeping possession for most of the remaining time in the half. However, the Eagles continued to attack when opportunities arose, leading to a few more shots on goal, but were unable to convert, and taking their three goal lead into halftime.
After an opportunity to make some adjustments, the Eagles started right where they had left of from the first half by putting a ball through the net just three minutes into the half, but an offsides call took away the goal.
Minutes later, the Eagles sank a ball that was nearly picked up from the Panthers goalkeeper. As a through pass managed to enter the box ahead of Freeman, Patton’s keeper came up for the ball. Freeman beat her to it and shot to the left and through the net to give them a 4-0 lead.
Patton (18-6) had a tough time getting anything going offensively, but showed fight throughout and caught a break they had been working for to deny a clean sheet for the Eagles in the 57th minute.
The Panthers took advantage of a Wilkes Central turnover and Ellie Sacchetti was left one-on-one with the Eagles’ Journey McCrimmon and found the net putting the Panthers on the board.
“We made one mistake tonight and they capitalized on it,” added Caudill. “That’s the mark of a hustling, hardworking team.”
Wilkes Central scored twice more in the final minutes to put the match out of reach. Emily Pontzer sent in a header from the right side of the box off of Lowe’s perfectly placed free kick in the 72nd minute, and Karstin Adair scored in the 79th with a shot from the middle of the box.
“One of our goals was to get an early goal, get a lead, and then hammer down a little bit on them. I think it changed their way of play a little bit too,” said Caudill. “It was a physical match and I just thank goodness we don’t play till next Wednesday because we need to rest up a little bit.”
The Eagles advance to the third round for the first time since 2011 and will host the No. 6 Forbush on Wednesday in a battle of former conference-foes. The Falcons defeated No. 11 West Davidson 1-0 in extra time to advance.
Start time for Wednesday’s match at Rivers Edge is 6 p.m.
“They’ll put four all-state players on the pitch. They’re going to play quality soccer, there’s no doubt about it,” explained Caudill. “It’s going to be interesting how we match up in styles and what we can do, but right now we’re just thankful to be in the third round. Come Monday we’ll start working on the plan, its just one more step up the ladder.”