SHOCK & AWE
Chapel Hill put on a demonstration of shock and awe in the first half, pounding away at South Brunswick’s defense with 16 shots and 14 corner kicks, but came away empty handed.
Chapel Hill coach Ron Benson said it never crossed his mind that the No. 1-seeded Tigers (24-1-1) might have given their best shot and allowed opportunity to pass them by in the third round of the state 3-A soccer playoffs.
His confidence was not misplaced. The Tigers continued the fierce offensive pressure in the second half and outscored the eight-seeded Southport-area visitors (7-11-3) 4-1 to advance to the quarterfinals against Jacksonville on Saturday at Chapel Hill.
“We were satisfied with what happened the first half” because the players did what the coaches put together in the game plan: “Take the ball down, put it in the box and shoot it,” Benson said.
“And we were on frame most of the time. We didn’t kick it over. The keeper was just getting his hands on it. The defenders were getting in front. But if you keep doing that, it’s going to happen,” Benson said.
And things came together quickly in the second half, with Ben Fisher scoring less than four minutes in at 36:02 and Alex Walker drilling a near identical shot home 22 seconds later. For South Brunswick goalie Mason Berne, it must have been déjà vu all over again as he dove to his left, desperately but futilely, parallel to the ground to block the low-sailing kicks.
“It was tough trying to get through the first half without scoring, but at halftime we just told everybody to keep their heads up and we’ll get one or two, and once we get one or two we’ll get three, and so on and so forth,” said Fisher, a junior attacking midfielder.
“As soon as I saw the kid dive in, I ran behind him and (the kick) deflected off him and went in. Benson always tell me to keep shooting so I just shot,” and scored unassisted, Fisher said.
“We were all pretty excited. It was fun getting the first goal. It did set the tone, but we made sure we didn’t let up,” Fisher said.
Chapel Hill immediately got the ball back and Walker, a senior, got his unassisted shot off from almost the same spot in the center of the box as Fisher.
“That was good. The team was just thinking to not let them score, and we’d be all right” after that shot, Benson said.
But the Cougars didn’t roll over. Senior Bryant Holden, a center midfielder, headed the ball in at 27:14 to make the score 2-1.
“I can’t thank anybody but the guy who passed it, Michael Hitt,” Holden said. “I’m just lucky to get my head on it.”
The loss stung, Holden said, because he believes the road to the championship game went through Chapel Hill.
“If we had won this game, we could have gone to the finals,” he said. “It slipped through in the second half. It sort of happened all season.”
Connor Albrecht, a junior center midfielder and the kicker for Chapel Hill’s football team, got that goal back with 11:11 to play to put the Tigers up 3-0.
“The ball went behind the back. We were looking for it the entire game and I was just there to put it in, finish it,” Albrecht said.
“I didn’t really think too much. I went ahead and finished it so I was happy with that,” he said. “We lit a little fire in our belly and just put the game out of reach at that point.”
Senior Chris Greaney scored Chapel Hill’s last goal, at 8:49, with an assist from senior middie Nate Hebert.
The game stats were one-sided. Chapel Hill had 31 shots to 3 for the Cougars, and 19 corner kicks to none. Tigers senior goalie Justus Heizer had 1 save; Berne had 15.
“I really think this is our year. The seniors really want it. I really think these boys can do it. We can put it away,” Albrecht said of a state title.
“It’s probably about the best team we’ve had in a long time here, to tell you the truth,” Benson said. But he’s not looking past Saturday.
“Jacksonville is really good,” he said.
NOTES — No. 4 seed Jacksonville is 18-4-1. No time for Saturday's game was available Wednesday night.
Chapel Hill 4, S. Brunswick 1
South Brunswick 0 1 — 0
Chapel Hill 0 4 — 4
CH — Ben Fisher, unassisted, 44th minute
CH — Alex Walker, unassisted, 45th minute
SB — Michael Hitt, unassisted, 53rd minute
CH — Connor Albrecht, unassisted, 69th minute
CH — Chris Greaney, assisted by Nate Hebert, 72nd minute
Shots — S. Brunswick 3, Chapel Hill 31. Saves — S. Brunswick 15 (Mason Berne 15), Chapel Hill 1 (Justus Heizer 1). Corner kicks — S. Brunswick none, Chapel Hill 19. Cards — None.
Records — No. 8 South Brunswick 7-11-3, No. 1 Chapel Hill 24-1-1.
Next game (state quarterfinal) — No. 4 Jacksonville (18-4-1) at No. 1 Chapel Hill.