Salisbury soccer takes first-round win over Hibriten
Hornets off and running in 2A playoffs
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — Salisbury’s girls soccer team has launched the opening volley in its quest to win a 2A state championship.
The ninth-seeded Hornets forced visiting Hibriten to play Tuesday’s first-round match at their pace and swept to a 4-1 first-round victory.
“I’m thrilled to survive Hibriten,” winning coach Matt Parrish said, moments after Salisbury (20-2) won its sixth consecutive match and earned a berth in Friday’s second round. “The girls who didn’t have any playoff experience got to see what it’s like. It’s a little bit different. There were a lot of people here tonight, the intensity is a little higher and maybe the butterflies were bigger. But all in all, we started well and played very smart for the first 65 minutes.”
That was enough to send No. 24 Hibriten (10-8-1) home empty-handed. Salisbury played disruptive defense, threaded some picture-perfect passes and received goals from four different players.
“We don’t want to be done yet,” sophomore Piper Muire said. “We’re excited to be in the second round and already thinking ahead.”
Salisbury outshot Hibriten, 19-5, and controlled play in both halves. “I’d say they won 90 percent of the 50-50 balls,” said Panthers’ coach Shea Bridges. “They just seemed to win every single challenge.”
Credit midfielders Muire — a do-it-all ballhawk — and junior Anna Grace Woolley, who earned Parrish’s seal-of-approval.
“The importance of Anna Grace Woolly’s play tonight cannot be understated,” he crowed. “She and Piper won ball after ball after ball in the midfield and that allowed us to set the pace. And Piper, she was a monster. She played her tail off. I asked her with about 12 minutes left and the game in hand if she needed a break. She looked at me like I was insane.”
There was none of that during the tense opening moments. Salisbury opened the scoring on a play that looked like an indirect kick — but wasn’t — in the match’s ninth minute. Junior Caroline Colwell was fouled and pushed to the turf some 20 yards from the visitors’ cage. On a free kick, Muire tapped a pass to heavy-footed Lilly Rusher, who lofted a shot over Hibriten’s defensive wall and past the outstretched arms of keeper Rachel Easton.
“I was trying to find the pocket between their wall and the goalkeeper,” Rusher said. “But it cleared everyone. We were playing very well, keeping the pressure on them. But being up only 1-0 at halftime meant we’d have to come out attacking.”
Parrish said it was standard fare for the Hornets. “It wasn’t really an indirect kick, but we treated it as such,” he said. “We work on set pieces with consistency at Salisbury. We’ve been doing that for a long time. When you have set pieces in the offensive-third, it should be organized and practiced. I always believe that in tight games, that just might be the difference.”
Not this one. SHS cracked the game open with three second-half goals in less than seven minutes, including scores by Colwell and senior Ellen Simons 45 seconds apart. The Hornets took a 2-0 lead just 3:50 into the second period on a play initiated by Sutton Webb. The speedy-yet-patient freshman forward found a seam, juked a defender and advanced the ball down the left side. She was inches from the goal-line, wide of the cage, when she centered a crossing pass to Colwell, who buried a shot into the wide-open right side.
“I was trying to throw it toward the middle of the box,” Webb explained. “I’m glad Caroline got to it with her foot.”
Following the ensuing kickoff, Simons found herself unmarked in front of the Hibriten net and scored on a turn-and-punch play that beat Easton. Salisbury mounted a four-goal lead with 29:17 remaining when Muire headed Rusher’s corner kick into the cage.
“Lilly played a really good ball and I was able to get my head on it,” said Muire. “I just found a pocket of space and finished it.”
Parrish was displeased with Salisbury’s finishing kick. Hibriten, plagued by injuries for much of the season, found another gear in the last 15 minutes and scored its only goal when forward Macy Penley pushed a shot past SHS keeper Caroline Clark with 22:52 to play.
“I did not like how we finished,” Parrish said. “If that’s a 2-0 game, do we still take our foot off the gas pedal like that? I mean, after 4-0, they were ramming the ball down our throats. We were lazy and complacent — and that bothered me.”
Certainly a correctable flaw, one the Hornets likely will address before Friday.
“I’ll take this result, every day and twice on Sunday,” Parrish concluded.
NOTES: Penley’s goal was her 10th for Hibriten. Easton finished with 12 saves. … Salisbury, now 10-1 at Ludwig Stadium, will visit eighth-seeded C.D. Owen (15-2-1) on Friday. The Warhorses advanced with an 8-2 first-round win against Smoky Mountain. The Hornets earned a 2-0 third-round victory over Owen last season.