Something had to give when Woods Charter and Spring Creek squared off in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A girls soccer playoffs.
Through the first three rounds, neither team had given up a single goal.
But the Wolves’ phenomenal scoring machine Isabel Pearce ended that quickly and in decisive fashion.
The senior scored three minutes into the game, later completing her 12th hat trick of the season as 10th seeded Woods Charter rolled to a 5-0 win on Saturday at The Park at Briar Chapel.
The victory advanced Woods Charter (16-4-1) into Tuesday’s Eastern final against North Central Athletic Conference foe and top-seeded Franklin Academy (21-2).
Both Spring Creek and Woods Charter had been eliminated in the third round each of the previous two seasons. Spring Creek was also eliminated in the third round in 2014.
Tyler Deegan made it 2-0 with an unassisted goal – her 13th of the season - in the 11th minute, while Anjali Gupta added a flashy header off a Julianna Puccio corner kick in the 33rd.
Pearce, who will play at UNC Greensboro next season, added goals in the 62nd and 71st minutes to give her 80 on the season. Eden Hart recorded the assist on Pearce’s second goal.
Sophomore Alex Christian had seven saves to record her 11th shutout of the season as Woods claimed its 10th straight game and eighth straight shutout win.
Spring Creek junior Fernanda Martinez recorded 10 saves.
It may be hard to believe now, but at the beginning of the season fourth-year coach Graeme Stewart was struggling to get enough players to field a team.
But the Wolves were able to start the campaign with 12 players, and now they have already clinched the best season in school history.
They’ll have another big challenge on Tuesday when they face conference rival Franklin Academy for the Eastern 1A championship. Franklin won the two regular-season meetings by a combined 10-2 score. Like Woods, Franklin has yet to give up a goal in the state playoffs.
“We’ll be ready,” Stewart said. “Defense is our whole platform. Their positioning, their appropriate aggressiveness, their shape and their composure on the ball has made all the difference to us. If you don’t concede goals, you can’t lose games. ... To be honest, I didn’t see this coming. We questioned at one point whether we’d be able to play this season. But the girls wanted to and we’ve made it work. The girls got used to playing for long periods, and they don’t feel sorry for themselves. The other team is not going to feel sorry for us.”
The Wolves have a clear leader in senior striker Isabel Pearce, who has 226 career goal and is on a 35-game goal-scoring streak. Only Trask has held Pearce to a single goal in any game this season.
Pearce will head to UNC Greensboro in the fall.
“Coach teaches us to never settle for mediocrity,” said Pearce, who has been playing since she was six years old and played for Triangle United for seven years. “He entices me to do my best and play to the best of my ability. I won’t level down to the players I’m playing against, so I’ve been able to score a lot of goals. ... I’ve always wanted to play soccer at the next level, and fortunately I’m going to get the chance.”
Junior midfielder Anjali Gupta, who has scored four goals including a header in the Eastern semifinal on Saturday against Spring Creek, said Pearce has been a great leader and role model for her teammates.
“We’ve all helped each other push through together,” Gupta said. “We’ve all supported each other. I think we have a great connection with each other because we have only 13 on the team now. And Isabel is amazing. She’s always first out on the field putting the cones out and bringing them back in.”
A key in close games has been the play of sophomore goalie Alex Christian, who will head into the Franklin contest on an eight-game shutout streak.
“My defense has been really strong in helping me out a lot,” said Christian, who has been in goal since seventh grade. “There are always some nerves, but the defense helps me relax. And the more goals we get the more comfortable I feel.”
The Gators may have hoped for a happier ending for their girls’ soccer season than a 5-0 loss.
But there was one big thing Woods Charter couldn’t take away from them.
They advanced to the Eastern semifinal for the first time, meaning first-year coach Jared Miller had guided them to their best season in school history.
“I enjoyed coaching this group of girls,” said Miller, a Mount Olive alumnus who is a student-teacher at the school. “I could not ask for a better group of girls. They haven’t scared me off. I wish I could keep all of them, but sadly seniors graduate.”
Spring Creek, which will move up to 2A in the fall, will have plenty of firepower returning as the team had only three seniors.
Captain Ivet Carreno will be headed to UNC Wilmington while midfielder Alondra Martinez and Nora Hernandez plan to matriculate at Wayne Community College. None of them have plans to try college soccer.
“I felt really good about this season,” Carreno said. “I don’t think people thought we were going to make it this far.”
Martinez said she was happy the team took to Miller so quickly.
“It was quite interesting,” Martinez said. “The team really loves him. Even when we struggled he always brought us up. He never gave up on us, even when we were down three goals at halftime.”
Hernandez said she’ll miss being around the team, but that the Gators have a bright future.
“I have learned so much from coach and I have really improved as a player,” Hernandez said. “And I think the team will be good next year. There are a lot of good players coming up.”