Eastern Alamance’s women’s soccer team has been no stranger to drama of late, having been pushed to the brink in a high-stakes penalty kick shootout Tuesday night against Western Alamance in the first round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs.
But few could have imagined that Friday night’s second round state playoff battle at East Chapel Hill would be as intense and dramatic as anything that happened in Mebane three nights earlier against the Warriors.
Eastern proved its mettle against one of the top teams in the state by pushing East Chapel Hill to the limit, as the Eagles and Wildcats went through regulation, two overtimes, and a pair of brief sudden-death overtimes with the match scoreless.
The Eagles got a few decent chances to score goals against ECH’s stalwart defense, but were unable to find the net against the Wildcats. At one point, junior forward Morgan Nixon dribbled her way deep into ECH territory, but her hard liner near the left-side pipe was caught by East Chapel Hill goalkeeper Tierney McConnell.
In another sequence, Eastern stole a pass deep in the East Chapel Hill zone and set up sophomore standout Sarah Widderich, who got off with her left foot a hard one-hopper along the right side that McConnell snagged.
EAHS’s defense, which was so spectacular throughout the 2019 season, came through for arguably its finest performance of the year, as the Eagles line of junior Kennadie Ross, freshman Grace Dobson, sophomore Brianne Aldridge, and others kept the Wildcats at bay.
East Chapel Hill did get some quality shots, but junior goalkeeper Anneke Brouwer continued her stellar play with a series of catches and deflections.
It was another heroic defensive effort, as the Eagles became the first team since Greenville Rose back on March 8 - a total of 17 games - to shut out East Chapel Hill through an entire match. The Wildcats entered the second round showdown with an overall record of 15-2-2 - the co-regular season champions of the Big 8 Conference.
For the second straight do-or-tie postseason match, the Eagles went into a penalty kick shootout. Sadly, this time things didn’t turn out the way Eastern wanted, as East Chapel Hill defeated them, 4-3.
It was a heartbreaking, devastating loss - one that was surreal for the Eagles, coming so soon after their own gut-wrenching win over Western Alamance.
Despite the loss, however, this group of Eagles will be back.
EAHS, who finishes the season with an overall mark of 17-3-1, is losing only a handful of seniors. Eastern returns players next season who scored a combined total of 106 of the team’s 113 goals in 2019. The team will also return the overwhelming majority of its defensive talent.
While the sting of Friday night’s playoff loss will likely linger into the summer, it will serve as motivation for the Eagles as they seek an even deep push into the postseason in 2020.