Tuesday, 04 May 2021 23:11

No. 8 Lady Raiders wrap 'successful season' with loss to No. 9 Holly Springs in playoff opener

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Junior center back Paxlee Faircloth (19) blocks a shot by Brooklyn Whitehead (left) in the first half of Tuesday's playoff game. Junior center back Paxlee Faircloth (19) blocks a shot by Brooklyn Whitehead (left) in the first half of Tuesday's playoff game. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — A night after rain postponed the opening round of the NCHSAA 4A East state playoffs, the Richmond Senior High School girls’ soccer team had to wait out another hour and a half rain delay on Tuesday.

Playing in their third straight home playoff game to begin the postseason dating back to the 2018 season, the No. 8 Lady Raiders competed hard early on, but made a first-round exit, falling to No. 9 Holly Springs High School 7-0.

Riding a six-game winning streak into the opening round, the Lady Raiders couldn’t overcome three first-half goals by the Lady Golden Hawks. But head coach Chris Larsen said he was impressed by his players’ efforts in the first 40 minutes.

“I told the girls at halftime that the first half was the best 35 or 40 minutes of soccer we’ve played all season,” Larsen said. “We were focused and the girls did what I asked them to do. We made a couple of lapses that cost us some goals, but that’s what happens when you play top teams.

“Tonight proved to me that our team is capable of playing at a higher level every night,” he added. “Some nights we take our foot off the gas and are satisfied, but when we get to the playoffs, the girls have the be on their A game and I saw a lot of that early on tonight.”

Brooklyn Whitehead netted all three of the Lady Golden Hawks’ first-half goals, scoring in the 7th, 13th and 31st minutes. Richmond goalkeeper Kelly Hoffman, who capped her four-year varsity career, made several key saves in the early going to keep the game close.

Hoffman tipped a ball over the crossbar on a shot from Olivia Womack in the 8th minute, and followed with a save against Kassie Jesrani in the 11th minute. Five minutes later she punched away a corner kick from Kylie Morris and made a diving save on a Jesrani blast in the 25th minute.

Junior center back Paxlee Faircloth made a sweeping clear on a loose ball inside the 18-yard box in the 30th minute. Hoffman added back-to-back saves on shots from Megan Hanson in the 36th minute.

Senior GK Kelly Hoffman tips a shot over the bar in the first half of Tuesday’s playoff game. (Kyle Pillar)

Despite not scoring, the Lady Raiders had a handful of opportunities around the net. Senior Jayla McDougald noted the team followed Larsen’s game plan and it helped during the early going.

“Coach Larsen told us what we needed to do, and as a team, we really executed well,” McDougald said. “They were an experienced team, but I thought we held our own considering how young our team is.”

Whitehead scored her game-high fourth goal in the 43rd minute to make it a 4-0 lead. Nine minutes later, Hanson added to the lead with her lone goal of the game.

“In the second half we started to let it slip a little bit, so I decided to sub some girls in to make sure everyone got some playing time in the final game,” Larsen explained. “Instead of playing such a high line in the back, we settled in and tried to adjust to their speed.

“This should show the girls that if we’re focused next year, we can raise our level of play,” Larsen said. “Hopefully we come back next year in a new conference and pick up where we left off.”

Clearing the bench to rotate players in and out every couple of minutes, the Lady Raiders gave up two more goals in the 65th minute (Ryley Lowe) and 70th minute (Payton Waller).

With just under five minutes to play, Larsen called Hoffman out of the net for the last time and inserted her at center mid. Junior Ellie Buck entered the net and didn’t allow any goals.

Senior midfielder Shelly Hoffman, another multi-year starter for the Lady Raiders, said the 2021 season was a success for a lot of reasons.

“I’m glad we made it to the playoffs,” Shelly Hoffman said. “We only played 14 games and we’re used to playing over 20 games. We weren’t sure how the season would go, but we adapted really well and won a lot of games.

“Just having a season was the best part,” she added. “A lot of stuff was taken during our senior year, so to be able to come out here and have one last playoff game was really special.”

Senior midfielder Shelly Hoffman (18) battles for possession against Elise Robinson in the second half. (Kyle Pillar)

With the 2021 season in the books, a total of 14 Lady Raiders found the back of the net at least one time. McDougald capped her career with a team-leading 14 goals in 15 games, while junior midfielder Kaitlyn Huff added 12 scores this spring.

Sophomore Cheyenne Jacobs scored five times, junior wing Ellie Buck notched four goals, while Destiny Barrick, Sheccid Heaton, Cheyenne Jacobs and Karter Walker all had two tallies. Six other Lady Raiders had one goal each.

“My teammates pushed me every game, which helped me score,” McDougald said. “Kaitlyn also pushed me a lot and that made me better. If it wasn’t for my teammates and my dad supporting and pushing me, I wouldn’t have had the successful season that I did.”

In net, senior goalkeeper Kelly Hoffman wrapped her third year as a starter in net with 12 wins, while collecting six shutouts. Leading into the playoffs, Hoffman recorded three consecutive clean sheets to close out the regular season.

Offensively, Richmond scored 49 goals as a team (3.2 goals per game), while a strong defense that developed over the course of the spring allowed just 34 goals (2.3 goals per game).

Senior forward Jayla McDougald works around Megan Hanson (17) in Richmond’s first-round playoff game. (Kyle Pillar)

Senior midfielder Allyson Leggett, who missed most of the season with a knee injury, didn’t let that stop her or the rest of the Lady Raiders from enjoying their time together.

“This season was way better than last year, and we were a great team this year,” Leggett said. “We had a great time and made a lot of memories.

“Being with them and being around the girls who are like a second family, that’s what I enjoyed the most,” she added. “We really appreciated one another and we made the best out of our shortened season.”

Richmond finished the season 12-3, including a 12-2 mark against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents. The Lady Raiders finished second in the conference standings for the third time dating back to 2018 (excluding 2020), and Larsen said looking back, the Lady Raiders should be proud of what they accomplished.

“This season was successful, especially after a shortened season last year,” Larsen reflected. “The girls got a lot of playing time, stepped up and learned a lot in the process. We went 12-3, made the playoffs and only lost to two teams that are now in the second round.

“I think we put up a good showing this spring, and now it’s a matter of committing to playing at a higher level on a nightly basis,” he continued. “I think the girls had a good time, we had a lot of girls who scored and some good laughs along the way. I hope they take some memories with them.”

The Richmond Observer will report on the All-Sandhills Athletic Conference team once its released following the elimination of Pinecrest High School in the 4A East state playoffs, or if the Lady Patriots win the state championship.

Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

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