ROCKINGHAM — With its second-round upset at Jack Britt on Wednesday, the Richmond girls soccer team secured its spot in the conference tournament championship game.
It will be the second year in a row that Richmond and Pinecrest will meet in Southern Pines to battle for the tournament title as the conference’s No. 3 and No. 1 seeds, respectively.
Last season, Pinecrest won a 3-2 decision in double overtime thanks to late score in the 95th minute.
“We went in knowing we were going to have to play a good game and we ended up playing fantastic,” head coach Bennie Howard said. “We had a chance to win it at the end of regulation on a free kick right outside the 18 (yard box) but Cassie McFayden’s shot barely missed the goalpost … and Tat Gould, who was our goalie, made some very key saves in that game that put us position to win. Those are two things that stick out in my mind.”
An ever taller task awaits the Lady Raiders (17-4) in the championship game this year, as they now have to figure out how to gain the mental edge over a team that netted nine goals and held them scoreless in both regular-season meetings.
At home in March, their “passive” effort led to Pinecrest (21-1-3) scoring twice in the first eight minutes and then using that momentum to cruise to a mercy-rule victory. On the road early last month, they watched as Lady Patriots senior forward Molley Niewald recorded a hat trick in the first half to spark another dominant rout.
“The first two times (we played Pinecrest), we already had it in our minds we were going to get beat and Pinecrest just took it to us. They dominated both games,” Howard said. “They’re a very good team, probably one of their best girls teams I’ve seen in a while at every position. Even when he (Pinecrest coach Corey Rice) subs, he doesn’t lose a beat.”
But just like last season, Richmond has the chance to use the momentum from its first- and second-round wins to put pressure on the team that made it through conference play without a loss.
Senior striker Hanna Millen highlighted Tuesday’s 5-0 victory over No. 6 Hoke County with a hat trick in the opening round. Junior midfielders Morgan Hooks and Jayana Nicholson also netted a goal in the win.
It was more of a team effort in the 3-1 victory at No. 2 Jack Britt in Wednesday’s semifinal. Sophomore defender Avy Lucero netted the first goal on a free kick, Nicholson broke the tie in the early moments of the second half, and then Millen capped the scoring — her fourth goal of the tournament — with a well-placed ball in the back corner.
“The girls played fantastic on Tuesday and then played unbelievable (on Wednesday),” Howard said. “The only thing we’ve got to lose (on Friday) is the game. We have to go in carefree and relaxed and just have some fun.
“We don’t need to put so much pressure on ourselves,” he continued, “because no matter what … we’ve had a great year thus far.”