Thursday, 03 May 2018 00:39

No. 3 Lady Raiders upset No. 2 Jack Britt to advance to SAC tournament championship

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ROSports File Photo: Junior Jayana Nicholson scored the game-winning goal in Wednesday's semifinal match at Jack Britt High School. ROSports File Photo: Junior Jayana Nicholson scored the game-winning goal in Wednesday's semifinal match at Jack Britt High School. Photo courtesy of Kyle Pillar.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - The Richmond Senior High School Lady Raiders soccer team’s magic number was three Wednesday night.

Ranked as the No. 3 team in the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament, the Lady Raiders took the season rubber match on the road to upset No. 2 Jack Britt High School 3-1. Even more, the Lady Raiders also achieved three never-before-accomplished feats.

In a tough, physical battle, Richmond earned its 17th overall win of the season, making it the most wins in a single season in its 24-year program history. Wednesday’s semifinal round win surpassed the 16-win mark set twice before during the 2002 (16-8) and 2004 (16-6-2) seasons.

The other two accomplishments were related to Richmond’s opponent, as the tournament win marked the first time the Lady Raiders (17-4, 13-3 SAC) beat Jack Britt on its home field. The other was it was the first time in program history that the green and gold defeated the Lady Buccaneers (13-6, 12- 4 SAC) twice in one season.

“The 17 wins are the most wins in a single season in the girl’s program history,” head coach Bennie Howard stated in a phone call after his team’s upset win. “This is also the first time we’ve beaten Jack Britt at their place. It’s a tough place to play and we haven’t had a lot of luck there in the past. But we had some tonight and the girls battled hard for a 3-1 victory.”

A night after blanking No. 6 Hoke County High School 5-0 behind a Hanna Millen hat trick, Howard noted his players came out firing on all cylinders, but did show some “tired legs late” in the game. But even battling some fatigue, Richmond would score two second-half goals to advance to the SAC tournament championship.

In the previous two regular season meetings this year, Howard’s team split the games, with each team winning on its home turf by one goal. On March 16, the Lady Buccaneers came away late for a 1-0 victory, and Richmond rebounded on April 11 with a 2-1 victory thanks to goals by Morgan Hooks and Avy Lucero.

It was the Lady Raiders who go on the board first Wednesday, thanks to sophomore defender Lucero. In the 9th minute, Lucero laced a free kick just under the crossbar through Jack Britt’s goalkeeper’s hands to give the away team an early 1-0 advantage. But it wouldn’t hold for long.

Just seven minutes later in the 16th minute, Richmond sophomore goalkeeper Allexis Swiney earned a yellow card on a play in the box. Per the rules, Swiney had to be temporarily removed from the game to serve her time for her card. Replacing her was freshman goalkeeper Kelly Hoffman, who entered the game to face a Jack Britt penalty kick.

Coming up big, Hoffman blocked the initial shot that was high and to her right, making a “fantastic save” with her palm, according to her head coach. But Howard said the ball hit off the crossbar and trickled out in front of the goal and remained in play, as Hoffman wasn’t able to gain possession. With no help from her fellow teammates to clear the rebound, Hoffman wasn’t able to regain her positioning and Jack Britt tied the game when the loose ball was put into the back of the net.

Swiney was allowed to re-enter the game following the goal, and neither team managed to add to their single first-half goals before halftime.

In the second half, the momentum shifted in Richmond’s favor, as it was able to blast two goals in a 14-minute span to ultimately walk away with a victory.

Junior midfielder Jayana Nicholson, who also scored a goal in the opening round against Hoke County, played the role of game-winning hero in the 43rd minute. With not even three minutes gone on the second-half clock, Nicholson “ripped a shot through the backup keeper’s hands,” this time low to the ground. Jack Britt had to replace its starting keeper when she suffered an injury. With 37:03 left in regulation, Nicholson’s ninth goal of the season gave Richmond a 2-1 lead over the Lady Buccaneers.

Adding an insurance goal 14 minutes later in the 57th minute, Millen took possession of the ball and “chipped a shot into the net on a one-versus-one opportunity.” The goal, her team-leading 13th of the season, was also her fourth in two games, which leads the Lady Raiders in this year’s SAC tournament.

The final 23 minutes of regulation play wasn’t without more scoring opportunities for both teams. Swiney, Howard explained, had “three or four unbelievable saves” to keep the game a 3-1 Richmond lead. Swiney also made a handful of other “very nice saves” throughout the course of the game, which “made the difference” in the win.

“Realistically, we should have scored five or six goals,” Howard said. “We had several other one-versus-one opportunities, but we just couldn’t connect. But we came through in the nick of time thanks to those second-half goals.”

With their semifinal win, the Lady Raiders will take a night off before traveling to No. 1 seed Pinecrest High School to vie for the SAC championship crown in a rematch of the 2017 title game. In their semifinal match against Purnell Swett High School Wednesday, the Lady Patriots blanked the Lady Rams 8-0 behind a four-goal night from senior Molly Niewald.

“The girls played so well tonight,” Howard concluded. “I’m elated with the win. I’m happy that we got the W and have the opportunity to play Pinecrest for a conference championship for the second year in a row.”

Just a year ago, Richmond battled hard into double overtime before falling to the top-ranked Lady Patriots 3-2. This year, Richmond has been mercy-ruled twice, both 9-0 losses, by Pinecrest. Howard explained that his team will have a “light practice” Thursday before making the trip to Southern Pines Friday. The championship match is set for 7 p.m.

Last modified on Thursday, 03 May 2018 18:40

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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