In the first half of Mount Airy’s senior night girls’ soccer match with North Stokes, the visitors had an obsession with stopping one of the Lady Bears’ juniors.
Everywhere All-State striker Baylee Greenwood went, there went a Lady Viking defender. She shook one, here came another. Anytime the ball went Greenwood’s way on the North Stokes side of the field, she could expect a triple-team of defenders in short order. She even got bumped and tripped a few times when the officials weren’t looking.
Still, it was difficult to question the strategy after the visitors’ defense and some great play by Stokes keeper Addie Bryant left Mount Airy with just a 1-0 lead at intermission. With the Lady Bears not wanting to lose in the final home match for seniors Kora Ledezma, Jo Snow and Axelle Lince, and also fighting for their playoff lives, a change in tactics was needed.
“We tried to move around a little bit, and finally we just decided to overload the middle and hold it,” said Mount Airy head coach Will Hurley. “Then they would have to come to us, and that would free Baylee up. It worked really well, and then we got some runs going.”
Hurley’s adjustments worked, and the Lady Bears exploded for four second-half goals and beat North Stokes 5-0. Greenwood ended up finding the back of the net four times before exiting the match with 9:17 remaining, and teammate Olivia Malone scored the final goal in the 74th minute of play.
Mount Airy completes the regular season at 11-8 overall and 4-4 in the Northwest 1A Conference. The Lady Bears already knew they would finish third in the league, but every additional win counts for playoff purposes.
Greenwood scored in the 28th, 51st, 62nd and 65th minutes of play, upping her season goal count to 27.
A big part of the first half was defined by Bryant making gutsy saves against Snow. North Stokes’ defense against Greenwood meant that other Lady Bears were able to get free, and Snow had breakaway opportunities in the 13th and 20th minutes. Each time, Bryant saw the danger and stepped up out of the box to challenge Snow directly. On the first of the chances, the two collided and fell to the ground, while the ball caromed off to Snow’s teammate Katheryn Lachino. Lachino fired from 11 yards out, but Bryant had been able to get to her feet and leaped into the air to prevent a goal.
Despite Stokes’ best efforts, Greenwood still had shots on goal three times in the first 22 minutes of play. The shots were 8-0 in favor of the Lady Bears when Kaitlyn Johnson had the first for the Lady Vikings in the 24th minute. Samantha Stewart made the save for Mount Airy.
Greenwood finally broke the tie in the 28th minute of play. She got the ball on a run down the middle of the field and simply outran three defenders, putting the ball past Bryant from about 12 yards out and giving her team a 1-0 halftime lead.
It took a while for the Lady Bears to break it open after the break. In fact, North Stokes senior Karley Jessup had a breakaway chance in the 45th minute and it was Stewart’s turn to step out and challenge her, saving her team’s slim lead. Four minutes later, Bryant denied Snow a third time in the same way.
In the 51st minute, Greenwood struck again. She stepped in front of a pass from the Stokes sweeper and sent it back in the other direction, then ran the ball down as it flew back toward the goal. Two Lady Vikings gave chase, but Greenwood was too fast and beat Bryant one-on-one from 10 yards away.
From this point on, the match became increasingly one-sided, as the Lady Bears had fresher legs. Bryant denied Greenwood in the 53rd minute, but in the 62nd, she again outran three defenders down the middle of the field and scored from 20 yards out. A minute later, Bryant stopped a similar shot from Ledezma, and then Lachino missed wide left in the 64th minute. In the 65th, it was Greenwood’s turn again and she didn’t.
“It’s no secret that we’re a second-half team,” Hurley said. “For some reason, we just can’t get going in the first half. It takes us a full 40 minutes to get going.”
After Malone’s goal, the Lady Vikings’ Morgan Mabe had a shot on goal in the 77th minute to try to avert the shutout, but Stewart made the play.
Mount Airy will now wait to hear its playoff fate this weekend.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.