ROCKINGHAM — Through the first 42 minutes of play, things looked as if the Richmond girls soccer team was going to extend head coach Bennie Howard’s career on the sidelines and put an end to its first-round struggles.
Freshman midfielder Caroline Whitley was in the middle of a crowd when the Lady Raiders scored to take an early 1-0 lead and then junior midfielder Chloe Wiggins opened the second half with a header that gave them a two-goal advantage.
But things started to “fall apart” in the final 34 minutes of play, as No. 20 Porter Ridge netted its first goal of the game in the 47th minute and then tacked on two more unanswered scores moments later to hold on for a 3-2 victory over No. 13 Richmond in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A State Playoffs on Wednesday.
Porter Ridge will go on to face No. 4 Providence in the second round.
“I hate that we bowed out of the first round on our home turf in my last game, but it’s got to come to an end somewhere,” said Howard, who now enters retirement after 24 seasons as the girls head coach.
“I’m proud of the girls,” he added. “We played hard and they did a great job, so I can’t complain.”
Richmond (17-6), which hasn’t made it out of the opening round of the state playoffs since 2004, got off to an exciting start on both the offensive and defensive sides of the field.
After Whitley was credited with the game’s first goal (Howard said it was more of an own goal by Porter Ridge), sophomore goalkeeper Allexis Swiney made a string of saves that got the home crowd cheering.
Swiney was faced with a two-on-one situation in the 15th minute but was able to grab the shot out of the air. She stopped a shot nearly 35 seconds later, saved another at the 9:50 mark, and watched a ball sail over the goal post in the waning moments of the first half.
Porter Ridge (13-8) kept putting pressure on the sophomore goalie, though, and eventually got what it wanted.
Freshman forward Beni Covert was responsible for the Lady Pirates’ first and third goals of the night, getting the first one in the back of the net with 33:42 left in the match and then scoring the game-winning goal in the 69th minute.
The game-tying score was recorded by junior midfielder Jackie Kasler in the 56th minute after Swiney mishandled the ball on her attempt to secure possesion.
“You can call that Christmas in May, because we gave that one away,” Howard said. “I thought a couple calls were missed but we’ve just got to deal with it and move on … It just kind of fell apart towards the end.”
The Lady Raiders may not have gotten out of the first round, but Howard had the opportuity to host a first-round state playoff game for the first time in 14 years and ended the 2018 season with a program-record 17 wins.
“It’s been a heck of a career. As I’ve told people before, I’d start from scratch and do it all over again if they’d have me,” he added.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.