ROCKINGHAM – The girls soccer teams from Rockingham Middle and Ellerbe Middle needed a shootout to decide Tuesday’s Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference title game.
After regulation ended with no score, Rockingham outscored the Lady Wildcats 2-0 in the PK shootout to claim its second straight conference title.
With the win, the Lady Rockets finished 2023 undefeated at 11-0 and have won 22-straight dating back to last season. It’s the second year in a row that Rockingham and Ellerbe have met in the finale and the fourth time since 2017 with the Lady Rockets claiming all of them.
In the week leading up to the game, each coach highlighted one aspect of the game that they felt would work in their teams’ respective favor. While a 0-0 score may imply that they both miscalculated, they were both actually spot on.
Rockingham coach Asheley Turner felt that the team speed of her Lady Rockets would be the difference-maker claiming that they should be able to “out hustle” the Lady Wildcats. Ellerbe coach Derek Anderson felt that, despite being very young, his goalkeeper and defense should be able to limit Rockingham scoring.
In the end, Rockingham used its speed and ball handling to keep the activity on the Ellerbe side of the field throughout most of the game while Ellerbe’s stingy defense thwarted numerous Rockingham scoring opportunities.
Ellerbe goalkeeper TeMaya Lockhart and the Lady Wildcats’ defensive players had their work cut out for them. Rockingham’s offense came into the game averaging 4.3 goals per game during its 2-year undefeated run.
Despite the Lady Rockets ending the game with twice as many shot on goal attempts (14), Lockhart and the Lady Wildcat defenders did exactly what they needed to give themselves a chance to win by shutting out the Lady Rockets in regulation.
For Rockingham, it was Addison Butler defending the net. The multi-sport eighth grader was a key offensive player for the Lady Rockets in 2022, but found herself in an unexpected role this season.
“I really need to give a shoutout to Addison Butler,” Turner said following the game. “She could have been scoring the goals for us this year and I’m sure she wanted to, but she graciously agreed to be our keeper and she came up big today.”
Four consecutive blocks by Butler during the penalty shootout combined with a pair of goals from Matti Wallace and Cadence Gazoo were all the Lady Rockets needed to claim the victory and the title.
“Ellerbe was a very worthy opponent,” Turner continued. “They fought hard for the entire hour. They are a very good team.”
A defensive stalemate may not have been predicted by those in attendance early on. Both teams recorded an open-look shot on goal within the first two minutes of the game with both goalkeepers making big plays to get the blocks.
Ellerbe’s Madyson Cloninger, Gaela Goodwin and Alisson Gonzalez Santiago turned away a series of scoring advances by Rockingham early in the game, but just as soon as they could clear the ball out, the Lady Rockets were coming right back with it.
With 18:48 left in the first half, a corner kick from Rockingham’s Cailey Chermak dropped between Gazoo and an open part of the net, but what looked to be an easy goal was deflected by a streaking Leslie Esteban Santiago, who appeared to come out of nowhere.
One after another, scoring attempts by Rockingham were turned away by one maroon-clad Lady Wildcat or another waiting to make a big play.
When Ellerbe did manage to get the ball across midfield, big kicks from the likes of Madisen Jackson and Erin Drumwright for the Lady Rockets often put the ball right back into position for Rockingham to attack the goal once again.
As a result, Anderson instructed his leading scorer, Mariana Gonzalez Aguilar, to take shots earlier and from farther out – and it nearly paid off. With 17:30 remaining in the game, Kenley Smith passed the ball to Aguilar who drilled it from about 30 yards out. The ball ricocheted off of the center of the crossbar and sailed out of play as the Rockingham faithful let out a unison sigh of relief.
Ellerbe had its biggest opportunity to claim the victory when it received two free kick opportunities on back-to-back Rockingham fouls that occurred within a minute of each other. The first was attempted with just under 10 minutes left in the game from about 20 yards out while the second was attempted from near the 10-yard mark. Both attempts were deflected by the Lady Rockets.
Rockingham recorded the only shot on goal in the final eight minutes which was blocked by Lockhart setting up the PK shootout.
“I want to give a shoutout to all of my eighth graders,” Turner said. “Most of them have been with me since the sixth grade. They work really well together as a team. They build each other up. They make each other better. As a coach, that’s all you can really ask for.”