RALEIGH — It took almost 107 minutes of play – regulation plus four varying overtime periods – for Panther Creek’s first girls soccer title game appearance to end with the first loss of the season.
Yet it was hard to find anything but unbridled pride from of the hundreds of Catamounts fans who filled three-fourths of the stands at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Stadium.
The Catamounts’ 1-0 loss to Hough High out of Cornelius, N.C. on Saturday night was still a great moment for the school.
“There’s no reason to hang our heads. For what we’ve done this year? Two years? It’s amazing. I’m proud of them, I’m happy for them,” Panther Creek coach David Grant said.
Hough (25-0-2) came in as the No. 6 team in the national Fab 50 rankings by studentsports.com, but Panther Creek (23-1-1) proved to be more than worthy of its No. 12 spot.
Hough’s Courtney Carroll launched a 22-foot strike into the upper 90 that grazed by the fingertips of Panther Creek goalkeeper Celeste Barnard and into the net.
“I’ve saved those before, but they’re not easy,” Barnard said.
It came with 3 minutes, 33 seconds left in the second “golden goal” overtime, which ended the game.
“I don’t know if anything was easy to say,” Grant said of the postgame conversation with his team. “I just told them that in my heart, and obviously they feel the same way, that the better team lost tonight. When you look at every minute of that (107) minutes it was, we just took it to them and took it to them. But that’s soccer, and sports as a whole. If you get one chance, you finish, – that might be it.”
A scoreless regulation sent the game into two 10-minute overtime periods that must be played to the full extent.
Hough, which was making its third straight appearance in the state championship after a runner-up finish last year and a title the season before, had three chances in the final three minutes of those two periods, but were denied by Barnard and other Catamounts defenders who made last-ditch efforts to keep the Huskies off the board.
Barnard tipped away a low, skipping shot with 4 minutes to go in regulation as well. “My back three are absolutely amazing. They shut down everybody this whole year.
They’re really, really great,” Barnard said. “Without them, it don’t think it would be like it is. We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did.”
Panther Creek’s Courtney Cash had a shot in the first overtime period that was saved.
The junior was a constant threat for the Catamounts, saying it was a point of emphasis “to attack the goal.”
“It was a good game, we gave it our all,” Cash said.
Cash had success maneuvering through the Hough defense and was responsible for a 24-foot shot with 21 minutes to go in regulation that was a hair over the crossbar. The shot temporarily deceived the Panther Creek faithful into thinking they had scored. Cash’s volley with 15 minutes left in regulation was saved and her run on goal with five minutes to go was blocked by Emma Cangalosi’s back. She also had a shot that was blocked in the 50th minute.
Cash and Hough’s Emmily Cowie battled at midfield, which turned into a game within the game.
The Catamounts also had strong play from midfielder Hollie Cartwright, who found space in the Hough defense time and again. She had two shots pushed just wide – once in the second half and again on a corner kick in the first.
Panther Creek’s stalwart back line was held together by center back Rachael Everhart, who blocked two first-half opportunities and, along with Meredith Hamby, Reylene Alberti and Briana Velasquez, broke up some of Hough’s better attacking combinations.
Everhart also deterred a breakaway from Hough’s Sarah Moon in the first period of overtime.
The Catamounts were making their first appearance in the state title game after seven straight postseasons.
Panther Creek loses just six seniors from this years group and returns its leading scorer from 2012, Emma Socha, who tore her ACL and missed this season.
“It’s scary to think that I’m going to lose my six seniors and ultimately gain my leading scorer from last year,” Grant said. “We’ve got a very, very bright future. This one’s going hurt for a little bit, as well it should.”
Christina Moore was named Panther Creek’s NCHSAA sportsmanship award winner before the game.