KINGS MOUNTAIN — The Watauga girls’ soccer team got off to a fast start in its second-round 3-A state playoff game at fourth-seeded Kings Mountain by scoring the first goal.
The Pioneers also finished fast by scoring the final two goals of the game, which clinched a 3-1 road victory over the Mountaineers at John Gamble Stadium May 10. Watauga (17-4), the 13th seeded-team in the 3-A western playoff bracket, reached the third round of the playoffs, where they’ll play at Northern Guilford, the fifth-seed on May 15. Northern Guilford (18-1-1) beat Northwest Cabarrus 3-0.
Watauga exploded out of the starting blocks by scoring a goal with just 1:09 into the game. Watauga’s season-long leading goal scorer Lily Suyao took a pass and slipped it past Baylee Marr to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.
“It was a great ball by Shaelyn,” Suyao said. “Brelyn (Sturgill) created a lot of space out wide for me and I just saw that space and thankfully finished it.”
Watauga nearly stunned the Mountaineers again when Sturgill scored a goal from the left side of the 18-yard box 40 seconds after Suyao’s goal, but was called for being offsides. Still, the damage was done to Kings Mountain (17-3), which struggled to find its rhythm until the second 15 minutes of the first half.
“It’s always nice when you can start out with a quick lead,” Watauga coach Chris Tarnowski said. “It was a beautiful cross and Lily hit a textbook shot into the corner, so it’s always nice to get off to a fast start. A lot of times we’re a second-half team, but I’ll take it when I can get it.”
Watauga dominated possession in the first 24 minutes of the first half. Marr made at least three saves on Watauga shots produced by the Pioneers’ ability to get its offense organized.
Kings Mountain regrouped and started to challenge Watauga’s defense, but the Pioneers still held a 1-0 lead.
“You come out and give one up early in the second round of the playoffs, it’s going to rattle the girls a little bit,” Kings Mountain coach Erik Price said. “It took us a little bit to organize. We had to move some kids around a bit and make some changes. Once we made some changes and got some kids moved around we got settled down a little bit.”
The Mountaineers got on the board when Kings Mountain’s Carley Johnson was fouled inside the 18-yard box and close to the Watauga goal. Sarah Drennan put the ensuing penalty kick into the goal to tie the match 1-1 with 30:08 left in the game.
The Pioneers roared back with two goals to put the game out of reach. Sturgill went first by splitting two defenders and scoring a goal from about 10 yards away from the goal.
“We made really good connections down the field and I got past a defender and it was kind of a lucky shot,” Sturgill said.
Suyao finished off the Mountaineers with a goal with 14:55 left in the game. Shaelyn Sheaf got Suyao the ball close to the Kings Mountain goal, and the junior Charlotte commit did the rest by slipping the ball past Marr.
Watauga, the co-champions of the Northwestern Conference, has won its last seven games. Kings Mountain, the champions of the Big South Conference, saw its 16-game winning streak snapped.