PILOT MOUNTAIN — The most successful run in East Surry girls’ soccer history will last for at least a few more days.
As the final seconds ticked away in the Lady Cardinals’ 6-0 first-round victory in the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs, the announcer took a moment to recognize seniors Maggie Collins, Mary Jo Lowe, Laura Ruiz and Carley Elliott, all multiple All-Conference selections who helped East Surry to one Northwest 1A Conference championship, three runner-up finishes, and last spring, the longest state playoff run in Lady Cardinal history.
The quartet played a key role in Wednesday’s victory over Mountain Island Charter, a team that East Surry had faced and beaten in last year’s second round. The Lady Cardinals were therefore familiar with the Raptors, and vice versa. Unfortunately for the visitors, however, being familiar with Mary Jo Lowe doesn’t always equate with being able to stop her. The senior striker scored goals in the sixth minute, the eighth minute, and the 12th minute as East Surry jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead.
“Mary Jo Lowe had some great runs early, and we had some great passes from Christina Chavez, Karlee Easter, and Elyssa Jones,” said head coach Neal Oliver. “The four up front have played so unselfishly, and that’s what you need to win in the playoffs.
“When we share the ball, when we play team ball, I think we can play with any team in the state.”
However, the Raptors (11-11) weren’t willing to roll over, and the remainder of the first half was contested on relatively even terms. Mountain Island adjusted its defense on Lowe, man-marking her and triple-teaming her anytime the ball was near the goal. However, it was time for Collins to shine now, and shine she did.
“She had an excellent match, and she has been consistent all year long,” said Oliver of Collins, who has excelled in goal despite battling knee problems recently.
The 6-0 final score looks like a lopsided blowout where one team simply had no hope of competing, but this wasn’t the case. The possession time was no more than 60/40 in the Lady Cardinals’ favor, but Collins was active in defending the East Surry goal and simply refused to let the Raptors get on the board.
Lowe’s first-half hat trick was all of the scoring either side got in the first half, but more came after the break. In the 44th minute, Lowe got a step ahead of the Mountain Island defense and headed toward the goal, but Raptor keeper McKenzie Webster came out to contest her directly, and essentially threw a rolling block at Lowe that she had to leap over. However, teammate Christina Chavez had followed the play, and she put her foot on the ball and blasted it into the open net for a 4-0 lead with 36:04 left to play.
Five minutes later, Lowe again had inside position on the Mountain Island defense and took off toward the goal, about 40 yards away. This time, there was no stopping her and no need for help, as the Greensboro College recruit scored her fourth goal of the match and the 98th of her career at East Surry.
The Lady Cardinals would get one more before their evening was done. In the 63rd minute, East was once again on the attack when Haley Noel shook two Raptor defenders and took a shot from about eight yards in front of the left post. The ball went by the keeper and made the score 6-0.
Lowe briefly checked into the match again and tried to get career goal No. 99, but determined defense by Mountain Island prevented this. With a few minutes left in the match, MiKayla Custer had an open shot from 10 yards out, but Webster denied her with a brilliant save.
The Lady Cardinals (11-7) will play again on Saturday in the second round against East Montgomery (15-1), the champions of the Central Tar Heel Conference. The Eagles beat Bessemer City 8-1 in their playoff opener on Tuesday.