Lady Vikings start states right
With three goals in a 15-minute span, Union Pines advanced through the first round of the NCHSAA 3A State Tournament, defeating visiting Ledford 3-1 Wednesday night.
Union Pines (17-1-2) enters the tournament as Cape Fear Valley Conference champs. The Lady Vikings will have home matches throughout the first five rounds of the state tourney should they continue advancing, including in Saturday's second round against Williams. Williams (17-2) defeated visiting Southern Lee (9-8-1) 4-1 in Burlington Wednesday night.
Union Pines dominated possession and the few attacking chances there were in the opening stages of the first-round match. While the score remained 0-0 until just before halftime, Lady Viking head coach Jeremy Blake saw no reason for concern.
"I thought we played really well in the first half," Blake said. "We knocked the ball around well and possessed it well. (Ledford) wasn't a threat at all. We could've gotten in the box, and on the end of some balls a little more, but we were playing well."
Ledford (8-9-3), the No. 4 seed out of the Mid-Piedmont Conference, didn't manage a shot on goal in the half.
Keeping nearly the whole match in Ledford's half of the field paid off late in the first 40 minutes when Sam Ring fired Kooba Richard's bouncing cross into the net from the middle of the Ledford penalty box.
Midfielder Elena D'Argenio started the threat with a pass sending Richard toward the endline on the left side of the penalty box. Richard's pass across the box got by Hannah Kiser, who was open, but found Ring, who was also unmarked for a clean shot, making it 1-0 with 2:12 left in the half.
The Lady Vikings kept the fluid attacking going early in the second half for a comfortable lead.
Less than three minutes after halftime, Richard scored moments after keying the Lady Viking attack 50 yards from the goal.
With center back Abby Verchick on the ball inside the Lady Viking half, Richard cut back to receive Verchick pass, making for a calm, but quickly threatening transition from defense to attack.
Hannah Kiser raced down the left flank with the ball before chipping it back to the center of the box. Richard jousted a Ledford defender for the ball before being able to poke it by the keeper from a few yards from goal.
Kiser and Richard teamed again for the third Lady Viking goal, coming in the 53rd minute. The two worked a perfect give-and-go, with Kiser, already on the run, laying a pass back to Richard in the center of the field, then Richard playing Kiser into the box behind her marker for Kiser to finish with a sharp shot into the back of the net.
Ledford's Brooke Patterson scored with 1:00 remaining for the 3-1 final.
Union Pines finished with a 16-7 shot advantage and a 9-4 edge in shots on goal.
"I thought we played really hard and did a good job putting (Ledford) under pressure," Blake said.
Richard has scored 36 goals and tallied 18 assists this season. Increased scoring from UP's other two goalscorers on the night has made the Lady Vikings better as the season's gone on, Blake said.
"We've started getting really great play from Hannah and Sam up top. They've been scoring more goals. They've started producing a lot more," he said.
The Lady Vikings will take a seven-game winning streak into the second round. Union Pines reached the second round of the state tournament last season before falling 4-0 to Cardinal Gibbons.