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Prep girls soccer: Salisbury holds off Carson

CHINA GROVE — There’s no official county championship game for girls soccer, but Monday’s matchup went a long way toward answering the who’s-the-best question.
Salisbury and Carson, the two Rowan teams with winning records, staged a struggle in China Grove. First-half goals by Ellen Simons and Katie Bullock lifted the Hornets to a 2-1 victory filled with emotion and bragging rights.
Freshman Cassidy Sears scored the goal for the Cougars (3-2).
Salisbury (4-0-1) owned the first half and built a 2-0 lead, but the Hornets were hanging on by their fingernails at the end.
“We thoroughly outplayed them in the first half and had all the hype and all the momentum,” Salisbury coach Matt Parrish said. “But then we lost control of the game about three minutes into the second half, and Carson took it to us. Hannah Smith just ate us up.”
Smith, a sophomore midfielder who is sturdy and fast, was the most impressive player in the second half.
“Hannah got us started,” Carson coach Lauren West agreed. “She’s the engine that powers our team.”
So dominant were the Hornets early that Salisbury goalkeeper Juliana Anderson could’ve read a newspaper. Carson didn’t put a shot on frame until the 15th minute, and that was a routine save for Anderson.
Salisbury’s Kayla Honeycutt ruled the midfield, and Julia Honeycutt, Bullock and Simons kept constant pressure on Carson goalkeeper Megan Bolick (23 saves), who was diving and leaping and scrambling all over the place in a valiant effort to keep her team in the game.
“Carson has a solid goalkeeper, tall and with a lot of wingspan, but we were helping her by putting a lot of shots over the crossbar and by putting shots right into her breadbasket,” Parrish said. “We didn’t put the ball on the ground nearly enough. We needed to use the turf.”
In the 19th minute, the Hornets broke through, with Julia Honeycutt, Salisbury’s most forceful offensive player, setting up a goal for Simons, a freshman who motored alone down the right side.
“I knew I was open and I knew I had a lot of space,” Simons said. “Julia made the play, and I kicked that ball while it was still in the air.”
In the 25th minute, the Hornets got their second goal. Emily Mann assisted Bullock.
“We missed so many chances in the box early in the game,” Bolick said. “But when I scored, Megan had come off the line, and Emily made a great pass. All I had to was tap it in.”
Bolick turned away several more pointblank opportunities for the Hornets, and then Carson had a chance to score three minutes before halftime. Cierra Josey had a look at an open net, but her shot wiggled inches wide, and the Hornets took that 2-0 lead to the break.
After Bolick made two more strong saves to deny Salisbury’s initial onslaught in the second half, Carson found its second wind.
“We were flat in the first half, we didn’t communicate very well, and it looked like we were moving in quicksand,” West said. “But we’ve got a young team, mostly sophomores, and it just took them a while to settle in. We also changed formations in the second half and put more people in the attack. We got more aggressive.”
Smith was the main problem for the Hornets, and she and Josey applied lots of pressure.
“Smith is a fast girl and we really needed to force her to play with her left foot,” Parrish said. “But we were letting her get to her right foot every time. She started to connect with Josey, and that can be a lethal combination.”
Smith created several scoring chances, but Carson couldn’t finish against Anderson. Still, Carson had become the puncher, and the Hornets were covering up.
“We’re a second-half team,” Smith said. “Sometimes we need a push. We need to get behind before we’ll play as hard as we can.”
With 2:31 left on the scoreboard, Carson scored. The Cougars made a swift defense-to-offense transition after yet another Bolick save. Smith made a furious, long run, weaving through defenders like a running back until she found daylight.
“They gave me a gap, and I saw the opening,” Smith said. Then when I saw the defense coming I laid the ball off to Josey.”
Josey’s shot was deflected, but Sears was right there to put away the rebound, her third goal of the young season.
In the final two minutes, Carson pushed for the equalizer, but the weary Hornets held on with some smart, time-killing maneuvers.
“There was a lot of stress watching there at the end,” Bullock said. “All I could do was hope our defense could hang on — and they did.”
Both teams are still sorting out their identity. Parrish said his team played a similar game against Mount Pleasant, so the Hornets have to figure out how to keep rolling in the second half.
“I’ll always take a win, but we’ve got a lot to work on,” Parrish said.
The Cougars have to figure out a way to put the ball in the back of the net. Carson has scored just eight goals in five games.
“We’ve got some talent,” West said. “We just haven’t finished many plays so far.”
•••
NOTES: Mia Trexler was the defensive standout for Carson. … Parrish said that while the players know each other well, he couldn’t recall Salisbury and Carson squaring off in girls soccer. “The last time I came to Carson was for a boys game in 2010,” he said. “I didn’t even know where to park the bus.” … Carson is at South Rowan in SPC play tonight. Salisbury faces another county opponent on Wednesday when it hosts West Rowan. … Salisbury expects to play the season without standout Ceci Cardelle (concussion).

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