By DENNY SEITZ
RALEIGH - Most athletes dream about scoring game-winning goals in championship games, but not Hough High sophomore Sarah Moon.
On a Huskies team with balanced scoring and plenty of star power, Moon simply focused on helping the Huskies get goals, never dwelling on whether the credit went to her.
So this was the set-up at N.C. State University’s Dail Soccer Field: The No. 1 high school team in the nation – the undefeated Green Hope High Falcons of Cary, playing in the shadows of their hometown, facing the No. 2 team in the nation – the undefeated Huskies.
And guess who becomes the hero?
“I would never, ever dream that things would have happened like this in a million years,” said Moon, after scoring both Hough goals in a thrilling 2-1 Huskies victory against the Falcons. “I never thought this was possible.”
Moon’s first multi-goal game of the season, combined with stellar defensive play, great goalkeeping and supreme conditioning led the Huskies to their first state soccer championship, capping a 26-0-1 mark. Green Hope ends its season at 25-1. Moon was named the game’s MVP.
Moon spent the first half as a forward on the right side of the Huskies’ attack. In the second half, she shifted sides, and was able to sneak behind Green Hope defenders twice to score in the final 12 minutes, helping the team overcome a 1-0 deficit.
All three of the game’s goals came in the final 23 minutes.
Green Hope seemed poised to score a number of times in the early going, but close-in shots either missed the mark or were expertly defended by the Hough defense. Sophomore goalkeeper Marnie Merritt made a dozen saves in the first half alone as the play was predominantly in the Hough end of the field.
But the momentum shifted in the final minutes of the first half. Green Hope, which was the definite aggressor in the game’s first 35 minutes, seemed to slow down. Hough never skipped a beat, maintaining focus even after Green Hope superstar junior Alexis Shaffer broke the scoreless tie with a penalty kick with 22:16 remaining, to make it 1-0.
“I didn’t get nervous,” Hough coach David Smith said. “I knew there was a lot of time left.”
You could forgive Smith if he had gotten a bit nervous. Green Hope entered the game having outscored opponents 124-9 through 25 games, including a post-season run in which the Falcons beat five opponents by a combined 27-1.
But Hough would not be denied.
|ROAD TO A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
The Hough girls soccer team capped a near-perfect season on Saturday with a 2-1 victory against Green Hope. Following is a look back at the Huskies season, which ends with a 26-0-1 record.
Hough 7, Independence 0
A diving save by Merritt on a close-in shot kept it a one-goal game, then two minutes later, Alison Stearns won a 50/50 ball near midfield, floated a perfect pass to Moon near midfield and the sophomore forward hit a low, hard shot into the far corner of the net, past Green Hope goalkeeper Lisa Armstrong. That tied the game with 11:43 remaining.
The talented Shaffer, who appeared capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, and her Green Hope teammates made a few more runs at Merritt. But she made great saves and got help from defenders Kailyn Overcash and Brianna Cuevas who both made sliding deflections in the goal box.
Hough’s defense spearheaded what proved to be the game-winning goal with about 4 1/2 minutes left. Sophomore midfielder Courtney Carroll hustled to a loose ball near the Hough goal, dribbled a few times, then floated a deep pass perfectly to Moon in the Green Hope end. Moon slipped behind the Green Hope defenders and beat Armstrong, who had come 40 yards out from the goal trying to intercept the long pass from Carroll.
“I couldn’t believe she came out that far,” said Moon. “I just didn’t want to misfire on the shot.”
She didn’t, and the Huskies controlled the ball much of the game’s final five minutes, essentially playing keep away from the frantic Falcons.
“We knew they had a dynamic offense,” Green Hope coach Bobby Peterson said, “but the difference was the effort they put forth in the second half. They defended as a team. They attacked as a team. We got great looks, great shots, but we were always one touch away.”
7 SENIORS DEPART, TALENT RETURNS
The Huskies, how 48-4-2 in their brief two year history, graduate seven seniors: Christina Rhines, Lindsey Byrne, Kailyn Overcash, Morgan Byrne, Alison Vest, Shannon Merriman, Hannah Robinson, and Stearns, the I-MECK Player of the Year.
There’s plenty of talent returning, however.
“This is something special,” Smith said. “These girls will never forget this.”
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