Sometimes it can be an unlucky bounce, other times an unlucky draw. On Monday night in the first round of the 3A state girls soccer playoffs, Hickory fell victim to both. The Red Tornadoes dropped a 1-0 decision on a goal in the 61st minute to wild-card entrant Marvin Ridge.
Hickory, now 12-2, came into the playoffs as the second seed. The Mavericks, 11-3-1, entered as the 15th seed.
“Not a great draw. Marvin Ridge is a state contender, so we knew we had a tough task coming in,” said Hickory coach Brian Jillings. “So proud of the effort the girls put forth. They didn’t back down. They weren’t intimidated. They came out and played. We had a chance to win, we created some opportunities. Different bounce here or there, who knows?”
One of those bounces Jillings referred to came after a scoreless first half in which the Mavericks controlled the ball and kept the Red Tornadoes' defense back on its heels. Working with the wind in the second half, Marvin Ridge managed to earn a corner kick.
Although Hickory thwarted the initial attempt off that kick, Camryn McKee somehow managed to find room in the scrum of bodies in front of the goal to get a solid foot on the carom for the game’s lone goal with 19:19 remaining on the clock.
“You never know how the ball is going to bounce,” Jillings said. “Sometimes you get lucky. Other times, unfortunately, it ends up in the back of the net.”
The goal marred an otherwise flawless performance by Hickory goalkeeper Taylor Rose. Marvin Ridge sent 18 shots at Rose and McKee’s rebound goal was the lone one to get through. Rose finished the night with nine saves, six in the second half.
“She played fantastic. Big saves tonight for us,” Jillings said of Rose, before turning his thoughts to the stalwarts that faced down the relentless Mavericks’ attack. “Zoey (Tucker), Taylen (Light), Nicki (Kozischeck), Laney Dettlebach)— all the back four — they were just solid. They kept things tight and gave us a chance.”
Trailing after finding few opportunities save for a brief time at the end of the first half, Hickory scratched and clawed its way down the field after the Marvin Ridge goal. But the Red Tornadoes were simply unable to get a pass through to an attacker in uncontested position to fire at the goal.
Hickory shot seven times and Marvin Ridge keeper Lia Doohan recorded five saves.
“At times I thought we rushed a little bit. Our touch maybe wasn’t as sharp as it could have been,” Jillings conceded. “Against a good team like that they’re going to pounce on the ball.”
The final Hickory rush came in the final seconds when the Red Tornadoes got a corner kick. But the Marvericks’ defense, as it had the entire game, was equal to the challenge and kept the Red Tornadoes from any reasonable shot on goal.
Both of Hickory’s losses were by 1-0 scores this season. Jillings reflected on this year’s Northwestern 3A/4A Conference champions.
“I was just fortunate to coach this group of girls. They came and worked hard every day in practice. Coachable, an easy group to coach and great leadership from our seniors,” Jillings said. “Just blessed with this talented group. Great year, winning the conference undefeated. That’s the first time that’s happened in a number of years.”
While Hickory’s season concludes, Marvin Ridge advances to the second round where it will be on the road again on Wednesday. The Mavericks will face seventh-seeded Charlotte Catholic (12-1-1) for the third time this season after the Cougars defeated No. 10 Forestview via forfeit in the first round. The latest matchup resulted in a 2-2 tie with Charlotte Catholic claiming their first meeting.