Prep soccer playoffs: West Rowan 3, Hickory Ridge 1
By David Shaw
MT. ULLA — This was a reminder that some victories won’t come easily for the fast-climbing West Rowan girls soccer team.
The heavily favored Falcons opened the state 3A playoffs Thursday night with a tougher-than-expected 3-1 win against visiting Hickory Ridge.
“It took us a while to get going,” coach Nick Brown shrugged after West (19-3-1) received three second-half goals from Allison Baucom and earned a second-round home match with A. L. Brown tonight. “We seemed a little complacent out there. I don’t know if we stepped on the field feeling we had the game won already, but our fire, our passion wasn’t there in the first half. We were sloppy, kicking the ball around, kicking it out of bounds.”
West’s uninspired play came as a surprise to many of the Falcons and their fans. This is a team that’s posted 11 shutouts this spring and outscored its opponents 93-15. “We kind of lacked urgency,” was how the Catawba-bound Baucom put it.
Hickory Ridge (8-8-1) had something to do with that. The Bulls turned the match into a traffic jam, stacking their defense with four backs and a sweeper in front of Division I keeper Liz Thompson. “That was the game plan,” said HR coach Melissa Arnold. “We have a strong defense.”
West didn’t have a legitimate shot-on-goal until sophomore Mariah Coleman snapped off a low heat-seeking missile on a breakaway that Thompson deflected midway through the first half.
Moments later HR’s Mary Katherine Wallace was mugged in the penalty area by a pair of West defenders and suffered a knee injury. Teammate Kori Holland — a Pfeiffer signee — converted the ensuing PK, dropping a pall of concern over the Falcons sideline.
“It was really hectic once they scored,” Coleman said. “Everyone started freaking out. We realized we could actually lose this game if we didn’t pick it up.”
Brown offered some choice words during the halftime break. “He told us we were a lot better than we were playing,” senior Mary McCachren said.
Added Baucom: “He kind of lit a fire under us, but I wasn’t really worried.”
Arnold tossed a verbal bouquet of roses at Thompson. “Our strategy was working,” she said. “And our keeper did everything to keep us in the game.”
It all changed quickly once the second half kicked off. West outshot Hickory Ridge 17-5 in the second half, beginning when a loose ball bounced dangerously close to the goal line just five minutes into the second period, only to be cleared by a defender. Seconds later WR’s Toni Lucente blasted a 25-yard free kick over the crossbar.
“It was just a matter of being patient,” Brown said. “We were controlling the game, even though we didn’t have that extra umph to put the ball in the back of the net. The good thing about our team is we’ve had a knack for scoring goals when we get scored on.”
Once again the Falcons held true to form. Baucom tied the score 10 minutes into the second half when she took a long feed from Rachel Brown, deked a defended and punched a sharp ground ball past Thompson.
“That was a really good ball,” Baucom said. “(Brown) put it in the exact place it needed to be.”
Thompson, who finished with 11 saves, foiled West’s next two scoring chances. And Lucente crashed another line drive off the crossbar with about 14 minutes to play. There was 12:35 on the stadium clock when McCachren, a senior midfielder, was upended in the penalty area while attacking from the left side. Though somewhat controversial, West was awarded a penalty kick.
“That was a very poor call, one of the weakest I’ve ever seen,” Arnold beefed afterward. It was pathetic — and it changed the game.”
McCachren half-heartedly agreed. “I was driving and I had an advantage over the defender,” she said. “But there was contact and I fell and the ref gave it to me. She was a little lenient on that one.”
Baucom gave West a 2-1 lead when buried the PK. Then in the waning moments Coleman dribbled down the left side, fought off a defender and slid a long pass to the right post, where Baucom converted an open layup to nourish West’s lead.
“I was thinking about taking the shot,” Coleman said. “But I got too deep and realized, ‘No, I’m never gonna make that.’”
Baucom shared the credit with Coleman after netting her team-best 31st goal of the season. “She got her head up, saw the middle was open and made a perfect pass,” she said.
It wrapped up a dramatic victory that was far from perfect.
“All I did was give them some perspective at halftime,” Brown said.
NOTES: Gametime tonight is 6 p.m. West earned a 2-0 regular-season win against A. L. Brown.
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