Cavaliers charge past Lee County
Lee County had rival Southern Lee right where they wanted them for more than an hour's worth of Wednesday night's NCHSAA 3A State Tournament soccer match at Cavalier Stadium.
The Cavaliers, needing to beat the Yellow Jackets for the third time in three matches this season to advance through the tournament's first round, scored four goals in the last 18 minutes to win 5-2.
Lee County (10-9-1), seeded No. 24 in the East half of the 3A bracket, led 2-1 for the last 12 minutes of the first half and for more than half of the second half.
No. 9-seeded Southern Lee, with the Cavalier head coach Chris Palme imploring his players to keep pushing forward, yet have patience in their play, needed patience before its attack paid off. The Yellow Jackets, who fell by scores of 2-1 and 2-0 to Southern Lee during the Cape Fear Valley schedule, made it a tough chore for the Cavaliers to advance.
The Jackets took their attacking play right at the Cavaliers for much of the opening 40 minutes and senior forward James Salisbury turned two quick long balls into two superb goals.
In the fifth minute, from a chipped pass by Michael Carter, Salisbury struck the bouncing ball with a right-footed shot from a few yards outside the top of the penalty box, hitting the upper part of the goal to put the Jackets ahead.
The Cavaliers answered three minutes later. Cavalier ball movement led to Misa Piedra and Isaias Cruz striking shots, which were deflected by Lee County defenders, only for Cruz to get another shot and blast it from the top of the box into the left side-netting making it 1-1.
The Jackets had chances to regain the lead, then did in the 28th minute. From a Cavalier goal kick, Jacket midfielder Jacob Baker won the ball, then played a long ball to the top of the Southern Lee box. Salisbury was first to it and headed the ball on the move over keeper Jeremy Hoover and down into the goal.
A few minutes later, Hoover got the best of Salisbury, denying a one on one chance with a sliding save at Salisbury's feet or else Lee County's lead could've been two goals.
The Cavalier midfield and back four turned up their play and the Southern Lee possession throughout the second half. While most of the match stayed inside the Lee County half, and the Cavaliers outshot the Jackets 8-1 up until the four-goal run, the Jackets were less than 18 minutes from moving on to the next round.
The tying goal didn't come from the Cavalier passing or steady attacking. Ethan Helsman took a free kick from 50 yards out, booted it long into the Yellow Jacket box, and the ball bounced through traffic and into the goal near the top, left corner of the net, making it 2-2 in the 63rd minute.
The Cavalier attacking only picked up with the energy of a goal. In the 68th minute, a quick attack down the right side led to Jair Cejudo sending a sharp cross across the Jacket six-yard box and Alex Palme putting a leaping header into the back of the net for a 3-2 Southern Lee lead.
In the next minute, Helsman, off an assist by Matthew Wehrly, lined up and buried a 28-yard strike - a low drive just inside the left post - for a 4-2 score.
Piedra scored, with a curling shot from outside the right side of the Jacket box, off an assist by Cejudo, with 2:00 remaining.
After the total shot category was 8-8 in the first half, Southern Lee outshot the Jackets 16-3 in the second half.
Hoover made five saves, all in the first half, for the Cavaliers. Hunter Watson made seven saves for the Jackets.
Getting past round three of the county rivalry gives Southern Lee a long road trip on Saturday for the second round. The Cavaliers (17-2-2) will visit No. 8 South Brunswick (6-10-3). South Brunswick beat Northeast Guilford 3-0 Wednesday evening.