Lady Crusaders reach state quarters

May. 11, 2013 @ 07:49 PM

Friday afternoon’s state tournament soccer match at Grace Christian was going to be a first one way or the other.

Lee Christian made the NCISAA 1A State Tournament in its first season as an NCISAA (North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association) member. Grace Christian reached the state tournament last season, in its first season in the NCISAA, but fell in the opening round.

No. 6-seeded Grace Christian (13-8-2) got its first state tournament victory in program history, but not without tense moments before defeating city rival and No. 11-seed Lee Christian (8-9) 4-1.

The Lady Crusaders beat Lee Christian 7-2 in the regular season, then 6-3 in the championship match of the Carolina Christian Conference Tournament last Friday.

The third time seemed as it might have been the charm for the Lady Falcons until early in the second half.

Lee Christian head coach Eric Davidson changed his lineup around, putting his top two goalscorers on defense, with Whitney O’Quinn playing stopper and Makaila Gillum playing goalkeeper.

While the Lady Crusaders outshot Lee Christian 8-3 through the first 25 minutes, the Lady Falcon game plan paid off in keeping the game scoreless.

Shortly before halftime, Lee Christian took the lead when Lauren Lane nailed a shot, from just outside the Grace penalty box, by keeper Sarah Beard into the upper part of the goal. The Lady Falcons led 1-0 in the 36th minute.

The advantage lasted less than 30 seconds. Lady Crusader freshman Torie Boyte received a pass from Madison Bolen and, from a difficult angle, struck a shot off the left post and into the net. The score remained 1-1 to halftime.

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“I can’t tell you how important that goal was,” said Grace Christian head coach Chris Pratt. “To come back that quick and score was a huge swing in momentum.”

The Lady Falcons were fired up for the third chance against Grace Christian. The switch in strategy and a 1-0 halftime lead might have been enough to make the upset bid very interesting.

“My players were not excited to play them again,” Pratt said. “The girls were worried, nervous, and some were even scared.  It’s never a good situation to have to play a team for a third time, twice in the last week, and what made it even more tense was that it was our cross town rival.

“I give Lee (Christian) a ton of credit. They really had us on our heels and we were feeling the pressure. I told the girls to forget that first half and concentrate on how to beat their defensive minded team. We made some key adjustments and the girls really responded well,” said Pratt.

Bolen and Boyte combined again to put the Lady Crusaders in front two minutes into the second half. Bolen crossed a ball in from the right side and Boyte poked it into the goal. Grace Christian’s attacking continued, then paid off again when freshman Charity Taylor rocketed a shot into the net, off Bolen’s third assist, making it 3-1 in the 53rd minute.

Bolen took her own shot, and scored with a 25-yard drive, for a 4-1 Lady Crusader lead in the 65th minute. The goal gives Bolen, an eighth-grader, 39 on the season.

Now having to attack, Lee Christian moved Gillum from goal to offense. The Lady Falcons had a few scoring chances but Grace’s back line of Kaycee Murr, Sierra Prater, Charity McVay and Elisa Carver kept the lead safe.

“My backs are a huge reason why we have been so successful,” Pratt said.  “I’m so proud of their development this year.”

Lee Christian finishes the season, which was also its first in the CCC, fourth in the CCC season and second in the CCC Tournament.

Grace Christian advances to the quarterfinals and a date with No. 3 Epiphany School at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in New Bern. Epiphany defeated Grace 2-1 in the first round of last year’s state tournament.

“Our girls want a rematch bad against them,” Pratt said. “They are an exceptional team and are very hard to score on. It will be a tough, physical game but I believe we are well prepared.”