ELLERBE – Despite being the smallest school in the conference, Ellerbe Middle School’s athletics are thriving.
Three of Ellerbe Middle School’s four spring sports teams are still playing headed into the final week of the season. The boys soccer team will participate in a Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference (SEMSAC) tournament semifinal game on Monday, but the girls soccer team and the softball team have both advanced to their respective championship games.
One set of Lady Wildcats will be making their second straight title game appearance while the other set will be visiting the championship game for the first time ever.
The Lady Wildcats claw their way back into the title game
Ellerbe Middle’s girls soccer team has done it again – advancing to the championship game for the second year in a row. Its 3-1 victory over East Hoke in the SEMSAC Girls Soccer Tournament semifinals was sealed by two goals from Mariana Gonzalez-Aguilar and one from Kenley Smith.
All goals for both teams were scored in the first half, so the second half stalemate locked up Ellerbe Middle’s place in the championship game for the fourth time in nine years under head coach Derek Anderson.
Anderson was rightfully proud of his team’s performance, particularly noting goalkeeper TeMaya Lockhart’s big day in net. Lockhart had “her best day of the year,” according to Anderson, with several key blocks in the second half, most notably a 15-yard penalty kick save.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot during this year and last year,” said Lockhart following the game. “On the penalty kick I watched her eyes and focused on where she was looking and was able to tell where she was going with it. I think we have all grown this season and are playing our best right now.”
With the defensive youth of the team and their impressive spread of goal-scorers throughout the season, the team seems to be well prepared for the championship.
“We have two sixth graders that start on defense and a third one that rotates in,” Anderson explained. “We are very young in the back and our goalie is a seventh-grader so holding (East Hoke) to one goal is big for us. Offensively, we have had ten different girls score this season which is incredible.”
Defending champion Rockingham Middle will be Ellerbe Middle’s championship adversary, Anderson mentioned his team’s narrow 2-1 loss to Rockingham at the end of the regular season and that the Lady Wildcats are excited to meet them again with a chance to get some revenge.
“All four of our championship visits have ended in a loss to Rockingham,” Anderson continued. “We are ready to get one back.”
About playing Rockingham in the championship game again, Kenley Smith said, “I think we will have a stronger mindset when we play them again. Our defense has come a long way considering that they are all young. Our midfielders and forwards have been working hard to get better. It’s all coming together.”
In a bit of a role reversal moment, Anderson tracked down Gonzalez-Aguilar after the game and dumped a cooler full of ice water on her head in celebration. Gonzalez-Aguilar, the team’s leading scorer is wrapping up her third year as a Lady Wildcat and would love to have her last season end in a title win.
“The championship game is going to be a tough game for sure,” Gonzalez-Aguilar said. “As long as we play like we did today, I think we’ll be good. Our team chemistry and passing have improved a lot. We are excited to be going back to the championship game.”
The championship game will be played at Rockingham Middle on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Ellerbe softball reaches its first conference title game
The Ellerbe Middle Lady Wildcats softball team made a big statement by advancing to their first-ever conference tournament title game. After a regular season loss of 6-1 against the perineal conference power Carver Middle Lady Eagles, the Lady Wildcats came out strong and got revenge with a decisive 9-3 victory last Wednesday.
Last year, they came up one game short of a visit to the championship game when they were eliminated in the semifinals by Carver. But this year, they reversed roles and sent the Lady Eagles home a week early.
Led by coach Angela Baker, the Lady Wildcats improved their season record to 8-2 and will now face the Spring Hill Middle (8-2) Lady Spartans on Wednesday for the championship game.
Talking about the team, Baker said, “We didn’t come into the game with a positive energy in the first meeting with Carver. Today I told them to just come out and do what you know how to do. They seemed less intimidated and just had fun and it made all the difference. I’m so proud of these girls.”
This game was an example of how teamwork, a never-say-die attitude and sheer will-power can supersede all bounds. Despite the high score, the Lady Wildcats did struggle at the plate but they made up for it by capitalizing on numerous Carver miscues throughout the game. The star performance of the day, however, was the pitching by Carley McCormick, who finished the day with a whopping 14 strikeouts which improved her season total to 109.
Spring Hill, the 2022 SEMSAC tournament champion will be looking to defend its title when it welcomes the Lady Wildcats on Wednesday. The Lady Spartans along with Ellerbe, Carver, and Rockingham all ended the regular season in a tie for first place with matching 7-2 records.
Spring Hill advanced to the title game by defeating Rockingham 15-5 in the semifinal. Ellerbe defeated Spring Hill 9-8 during the regular season.