RALEIGH BOUND

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS

 

Pack survive late-game drama, advance to state championship

By DAVID CUCCHIARA

Washington Daily News

 

It seems like every time the Pam Pack are faced with an obstacle, they figure out a way to battle through it.

It began with a weak conference schedule, causing critics to doubt Washington’s ability to perform in the playoffs. The loss of Class 2-A’s leading scorer, Christian Heggie, in the fourth-round game against Carrboro had even head coach Ed Rodriguez skeptical about whether or not the team could continue its success. Even in Tuesday’s regional final match against Croatan, the team’s other scoring option up front, Isabella Mayo, went down early with a knee injury. But the Pam Pack never lost sight of their goal.

The team’s incessant perseverance paid off. In a match that came down to the wire, goal keeper Emily Alligood and the Washington defense proved impermeable, as the Pack knocked off Croatan, 1-0, to advance to the NCHSAA Class 2-A State Championship.

“We started the season and didn’t know exactly how many players we had or if we were even going to get enough players for a team,” Rodriguez said. “To make it to a state final, this is just incredible.”

Without their leading scorer, it was an uphill climb for the Pam Pack against a Cougars team that recorded just three losses this season. Presenting a three-forward set, head coach Paul Slater’s team owned the possession game through the first half. After a collection of shots requiring full extensions from Alligood, Croatan’s best opportunity came in the fifth minute when a scuffle in front of the net resulted in a ball that bounced dangerously over the crossbar, inches from putting the Cougars on top.

In the 15th minute, senior striker Lindsey Johnson found and opening in the defense and fired a shot passed a helpless Alligood and half a foot to the right of the post. It was a difficult angle, but an opportunity that Johnson should have capitalized on.

Just four minutes later, again, the Pam Pack goalie found herself in a desperate situation. Another scuffle resulted in a golden opportunity for the Cougars after the ball found its way in between Alligood and the goal line. Washington escaped as the defense cleared the zone just in time.

Despite the chances, the save of the match and – without question – the year for Alligood came with six minutes remaining in the half. Johnson found herself one-on-one with the Washington keeper and instead of charging, Alligood stayed back and remained calm. Johnson tried to easily tap it in the back of the net, but Alligood guessed correctly, turning from a vertical to horizontal stance to make a remarkable save.

“They played quick and connected their passes very well, which is something we need to work on,” said senior midfielder Alana Jefferson. “They’re physical, but all it takes is one goal, and we were the ones who got it.”

Scoreless at the half, it took one opportunity just minutes after the break to put the Pack on top. Junior Caitlyn Scott received a routinely placed cross from senior Harley Hudson, redirecting it off the right post and into the back of the net as lighting rippled in the distance.

Realizing scoring opportunities were a rare, Rodriguez began subbing players in on each stoppage. Croatan kept up the attack, but in the 56th minute, the referees decided to delay the game due to the threat of lightning.

For an hour and 15 minutes, players awaited the restart in the gym and fans stood impatiently around the pitch. When play resumed, Washington, like a hockey team during a power play, did everything in its power to disrupt Croatan’s set pieces.

Seconds into the restart, Johnson struck a shot off the crossbar, received the rebound and fired another shot which Alligood tipped over the bar. Then, the referee began to flash the cards. Two Croatan players received yellows for verbal frustration. Then, with just 13 minutes remaining, the hearts of all Pam Pack fans sunk when the speedy Sidney Edwards received a yellow after fouling a forward in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. It was her second of the game and Edwards was ejected, forcing Washington to play a man down over the final minutes.

With the pressure on, Croatan missed the penalty wide left. Another big break for Washington.

“I thought, ‘let’s not give up a silly goal after all this hard work,’” Rodriguez said. “It’s like running a marathon and breaking your foot with a mile left. You just want to finish through.”

Edwards, along with Anna McLawhorn, were the catalysts behind the Pack’s defense throughout the contest. Without Edwards, the Cougars began to find holes in the defense and test Alligood. Jefferson received a yellow, forcing a substitution, and Croatan continued to get opportunity after opportunity, none which found the back of the net.

“It’s tough, but it’s all about mentality and will power,” Jefferson said. “I feel like that’s how we get through a lot of our games.”

The final seconds ticked away and Rodriguez fell to his knees. Washington survived.

“I don’t even know who were playing yet, but I’ll take the U.S. national team if I have to,” Rodriguez said. “We played Carrboro, who people thought were one of the best teams. I have a lot of respect for Croatan. This team has done whatever it takes to win. We haven’t given up a goal in the entire playoffs. Not many teams can say that.”

One win away from a state title, Washington will head to Raleigh on Saturday at 11 a.m. to face West Stokes (24-2-1) for the Class 2-A State Championship.

“I’m super excited and I expect we’ll play our hardest and lay it all on the line,” Jefferson said. “What else is there to do after this. We have a chance to be state champions … I want a ring.”