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It takes three OTs, but Mooresville gets by Watauga WSOC in first sudden death period, 1-0

By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — For a soccer match featuring teams with almost identical regular season records, the May 20 match between Watauga and Mooresville in Round 3 of the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs was a fitting celebration of both teams’ accomplishments. Tied at 0-0 at the end of regulation and still tied that way at the end of two overtime periods, a defensive battle that saw only a handful of meaningful attacks on goal was thrust into sudden death OT.

BONUS PHOTOS at bottom of article. For best viewing on desktop monitors or laptops, please click on any image for Slide Show mode.

Incidental contact inside the Watauga-defended penalty box sent players from each team sprawling to the turf, but the referee decided the Watauga defender was overly aggressive on the play, issued a yellow card, and awarded a penalty kick to Mooresville, midway into the first sudden death period. It is not the way you expect a match of this character and magnitude to end — and it almost wasn’t.

With Watauga’s Sydnee Bryant (18) looking on in the background, sophomore defender Ali Bertrand (10) pressures Mooresville’s Siena Peruc (15) on May 20. Photographic image by David Rogers

The visiting Blue Devils’ junior midfielder Cameron Cline pummeled the PK ball toward the Watauga net, where goalkeeper Rylee Mitchell at first turned away the shot. In the mayhem that followed around the deflected ball in front of the Watauga goal, Cline found it again and pushed what had been an elusive orb toward and into the Pioneers’ goal for what turned out to be the game decider. The Mooresville sideline erupted, rushing in celebration to surround Cline. One by one, with intermixed hugs and sobs, the Pioneers drifted to the Watauga bench, a highlight-reel season’s end.

It was another one of those games where you hated that someone had to lose. Mooresville dominated possession in their attacking half of the field for much of regulation time, repeatedly turned away by a disruptive Watauga defense, including close to a dozen saves by Mitchell. Watauga’s normally dominant offense didn’t have many opportunities this time out, but had arguably some of the most dramatic attacks on goal — saved by the Blue Devils’ goalkeeper, senior Briton Warham.

Watauga’s ‘almost goal’ sequence during OT. Off a corner kick by Mattie Durham, Katie Durham spots up in front of the Mooresville goal for a header.

Header delivered, aimed for the upper reaches of the net…

Ball strikes the upper crossbar, caroms off and is cleared by a Mooresville defender.

“Mooresville is a solid team,” said Watauga head coach Chris Tarnowski after the game. “They have had an historic season, winning their conference for the first time in 20-something years.

“And you saw it tonight,” he added. “They possessed the ball well. They worked the ball around well. What kept us in the game was heart and character. Even if we’re not getting the ball and not able to play our game, we have players throwing themselves in front of crosses, clearing the ball, making that one last run. (Mooresville) walks away with the win but I walk away really proud of our heart and character, all the way through almost two hours of soccer.”

Watauga’s trademark attacking style includes one- and two-touch short passes, keeping possession and working the ball methodically downfield. Against Mooresville, it was hard to implement.

“I think you have to credit Mooresville,” Tarnowski conceded. “They closed down space far faster than what we are used to seeing. They were nullifying any chances that we were getting to move the ball. They came out with a lot of energy and a good game plan.”

Tarnowski had some additional high praise for his roster depth, particularly Elyse Rea.

“My gosh, we didn’t have any dropoff at all,” said the Pioneers’ chief mentor. “Sammy Morgan came out with some calf cramps and we were basically trading freshman for freshman. Elyse comes off the bench and we don’t skip a beat — and she plays 60 full minutes, blending in with four seniors on defense like she has been there all the time. We lose a really strong senior class but we have some really strong underclassmen, too. As coaches, it may be hard tonight but we are already looking forward to next year!”

Georgia Parker (9) sprints upfield with the ball, on attack vs. Mooresville in Round 3 on May 20 at Jack Groce Stadium. Photographic image by David Rogers

Reflecting back on the season, Tarnowski had a lot of praise for his seniors.

“We’ve had great senior classes before, but this may be the most impactful we have ever had. We are going to have young girls coming up through these programs and new players next year and I guarantee they will be saying, ‘Hey, I want to be scoring goals like Katie Durham and Georgia Parker.’ Or, ‘I want to be running through people like Sam Bertrand, Syd Bryant and Lucy Willis.’ Or, ‘I want to be controlling the midfield like Charlotte Cuthbert.’ We have had Olivia Foskey doing the high jump in track one day and blocking shots for us the next. When I look back, it is going to be with a special appreciation for our seniors. They need to know that they will have a (significant) impact on young female athletes in our community.”

Mooresville head coach Susie Hudson was, of course, pleased with her team’s performance on the night, as well as had high praise for Watauga.

“This was a hard, hard-fought match,” said Hudson. “Our girls dug deep. This is something that they have wanted. They played with heart, soul and determination tonight. Watauga plays tough, hard-working soccer up here. They are very tough to beat. They have speed and they have skills. They play really hard.”

With win, No. 8 Mooresville advances to face No. 5-seeded Asheville (a 2-1 winner over No. 13 Charlotte Catholic) on May 23.

In the other 4A West bracket Round 3 games, No. 6 Marvin Ridge defeated No. 3 West Forsyth, 4-2, and No. 26 Myers Park upset No. 2 Hough, 3-1


Mooresville goalkeeper Briton Warham dives to save a potential goal off the foot of Watauga’s Katie Durham, early in the Round 3 playoff game on May 20. Photographic image by David Rogers


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