All season long, Mount Airy soccer coach Will Hurley has been frustrated by his team’s slow starts. At times, it’s taken the Lady Bears an entire half to get their offense in sync.
He had no such complaints on Wednesday evening in the first round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs. Mount Airy started strong and stayed strong in an 8-1 victory over Swain County.
“This was the best we’d come out all season,” said Hurley, who team likely finished its home schedule for 2018 even if it advances deep into the playoffs. “I’m really proud of them for finishing out here the way they did.”
The Lady Bears (12-8 overall) was rock-solid in the early going, getting two quick early goals from Baylee Greenwood while doing what it needed to on defense against the Maroon Devils’ dangerous junior striker Kyndall Cochran, who entered the match with 31 goals in 15 matches. Cochran did get a goal before the first half ended, but by that time, the Lady Bears already had four of their own.
“She’s a really good player,” Hurley said of Cochran. “We were kind of double-marking her.”
But where Cochran was concerned, the best defense was a good offense, and the Lady Bears were aggressive from the get-go. A couple of early fouls resulted in free kicks from Greenwood, who scored goals off them in the fourth and ninth minutes for a quick 2-0 lead. Hurley encouraged his team not to let up, and they didn’t. Swain continued to mark Greenwood with multiple players, but the Lady Bears were ready for these tactics. In the 23rd minute, Greenwood appeared trapped near the home sideline, but alertly saw teammate Gabbi Troutman moving toward the goal. A quick one-touch crossing pass set up Troutman for the goal from about 15 yards out. Five minutes later, she nearly did it again, but the Swain keeper ran out of the net and grabbed Greenwood’s pass a split-second ahead of her.
In the 29th minute, about 30 seconds after a near-miss by Greenwood, Olivia Malone made it 4-0 with a hard shot from about 23 yards in front of the net. The ball ricocheted off the crossbar and into the net behind the keeper.
“We tried to move Baylee around a bit and I think it worked,” said Hurley. “When they started hanging on her, it freed Olivia up and she had a really good game, and so did Kora (Ledezma)”
A minute later, Cochran answered for the Devils, cutting across the field from right to center and keeping the ball at an angle away from her defender. It became a one-on-one with Mount Airy keeper Samantha Stewart, and Cochran scored to make it a 4-1 game at the break.
Neither Greenwood nor Malone was done as the second half got under way.
In minute 47, Greenwood got single coverage and beat her defender and the keeper from 15 yards out. Two minutes later, it was Malone’s turn. Her second goal came on a blast from 17 yards out that deflected slightly off the torso of a Swain defender and sailed into the goal for a 6-1 Lady Bear lead.
Over the next 12 minutes, Greenwood, Malone and Kora Ledezma peppered the Swain goal with shot after shot, but most of them just missed the net. However, the Lady Bears never stopped attacking.
Ledezma got the seventh goal in the 62nd minute, after moving to a forward position. Hers came at about the 18-yard mark from near the right post. Three minutes later, Malone went for the hat trick but was denied on a good save by the keeper, but she got it anyway in the 76th minute, when she got one-on-one with a defender and beat her for an open shot at about five yards in front of the net.
It was Malone’s second hat trick of the season and Greenwood had her sixth. The players did it in the same match for the second time, having also done so March 9 against West Wilkes.
The Lady Bears move on to a second-round match at Lincoln Charter (17-1-1) on Saturday night. The Eagles, who are the state’s 10th-ranked 1A team according to MaxPreps, won the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference title this season.