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WAKE FOREST – East Bladen’s Lady Eagles battled high-powered Franklin Academy Tuesday night and stayed within 1 goal, then 2 goals, before the Lady Patriots tacked on 2 goals in the final 3 minutes for a 4-0 victory in the 3rd round of NCHSAA Class 2A girls’ soccer playoffs.

“The game was much closer than the final score indicates, stated Lady Eagle Coach Jay Raynor. “Our girls played hard but we ran out of gas. I thought we out worked Franklin at times but it seemed the longer the game went on and we hadn’t scored, the more tired we seemed to become. We needed some type of spark to ignite that energy.”

Raynor continued, “We needed the fire we had at North Johnston last week. It wasn’t there. When you go for long durations of time without scoring, you feel like all you’re doing is defending. It takes a lot out of you to play with a team of Franklin’s caliber. We believed we could win. However, when we were 50, 60, 70 minutes in without us seeing the ball in the back their net and they have 1, then 2 goals, our legs got heavier and so did our heads. That was the difference. They are a good team and they out worked us in critical moments of the game.

“I am proud of the girls,and I hate the season has come to an end. This group has come far,” shared Raynor. “At the beginning of the season, I’m not sure anyone would have believed that this team could compete and be as successful as they have been. They found ways to win and believed as well as loved playing with and for each other. That starts with our seniors, Acee (Campbell) and Cydney (Campbell).”

Raynor went on, “Acee and Cyd are two of the toughest and best leaders I have been around. Their leadership style was different than I have previously experienced with successful teams but that style is what this group needed. Tonight shows just how bad they wanted it. Cyd was clobbered and didn’t want to leave the pitch. Acee was feeling under the weather and dominated the midfield for 80 minutes. They are everything you want your seniors to be.

“This one stings,” shared Raynor. “This group is special and I feel are ahead of their time. Our youth and inexperience showed itself at times tonight. The details matter at this point. We have been polished but tonight we didn’t show the shine that we have had recently.”

Franklin Academy outshot the Lady Eagles 7-6 in the first half. “We had our chances but didn’t capitalize on those opportunities,” noted Raynor. “Our level of energy didn’t seem to be where it needed to be from the start of the match. We had a solid game plan that worked when we adhered to it.

“Jackie (Medina-Leal) had a great first half for us and was able to beat their backs over and over again,” stated Raynor. “Jackie as well as Nene (Ward) were finding the space behind their backs, we just couldn’t seem to make that final turn around them to get into the box or earn corners.”

Raynor added, “We couldn’t seem to take advantage of their keeper and the high line she was playing. We just couldn’t seem to get a diagonal ball behind their backs or hit a hard shot from distance over her head. Their keeper was a factor. Her punts were sent to or beyond midfield and at times we weren’t able to recover to win them. Franklin was also comfortable dropping the ball to her, and we just couldn’t seem to pressure her into making a bad clearance. I believe we may have twice but other than that she was great with her distribution with her feet.”

According to Raynor, Franklin’s offense is centered around Olivia Olarte and Kayla Rice. “Heidi (Rebollar), Acee, and Gabby (Rebollar) did an extraordinary job limiting their touches as well as their combining with each other. They are great players and we knew we couldn’t let them run at us. Our central midfielders did a great job of not letting them get comfortable and find space.

“Our midfield and backs played extremely well tonight,” said Raynor. “Molly (Evans), Zoe (Smith), and Anna (Maranda) dominated the game for us in the back. They were locked-in and Franklin couldn’t break them down.

“Reese (Hester) had a career night for us,” continued Raynor. “Reese made several diving saves and sacrificed herself all night. Reese put herself in harm’s way tonight to make several stops. Never once did she back down and she kept making save after save. She finished with 12 saves.”

Raynor pointed out that the Lady Patriot offense wanted to play down the right side of the field. “We took that away. Cydney and Anna took away their speed and negated their ability to serve balls from the right flank. Anna and Cyd played at a high level and limited their chances on goal. None of the goals that were generated came from their right side. That is something Franklin has done all season, get the ball into the right flank and serve balls into the box.”

The Lady Eagles forced Franklin to adjust their offense. “Franklin would shift their play and start working down their life side of the field,” said Raynor. “Our game plan was to play in an unbalanced system and shift over to their right taking away their strengths. It worked extremely well in the first half and initially so into the second half. They began playing into the space of our system which is our strongest side of the field. They were doing everything we wanted them to do. We were controlling the game even when we didn’t have the ball.”

The Lady Patriots finally broke through at the 30:35 mark in the second half. “Cydney goes to make a play to clear a through ball played for 14 (Rice) to run onto,” described Raynor. “Cyd clears the ball and the girl flat out runs through the clear and Cyd. Cyd was taken off her feet. Not real sure how a foul isn’t called. 14 picks up the loose ball and forces Reese into a stretched kick save that she almost comes up with. Cyd was hit pretty good but was able to get back into the game.”

Raynor added, “There were several instances where I thought the play was more physical than it should’ve been allowed especially with our backs and the keeper. It almost seemed that anything goes inside the 18 yard box. We don’t back down from physical play and can hang with it. What we experienced tonight inside the box was over the top and reckless.”

With 12:40 left to play, Franklin padded the lead to 2-0. “They served a ball long from left to right that our girls must have thought was going out of play,” said Raynor. “The ball stayed in play and they beat us to it. That resulted in another ball served in from the right side beyond the our back post. We had no one on the backside and they were able to settle the ball and cut back into the middle. Gabby tried to cover the shot and partial blocked it. Rice put the shot past Reese who was diving to make the save just inside the right post.”

After the second goal the Lady Eagles were forced to gamble. “Losing 0-2 is not different than 0-9,” noted Raynor. “Molly held 14 (Rice), 1 (Lydia Rogers), and 9 (Olarte) down all night with the help of Gabby. I rolled Molly up top and Gabby underneath her once we were inside of 10 minutes to generate more of an attack. The thought process was that Molly and Nene’s speed would be able to get us behind them and I knew Gabby would be able to pick up a loose ball in front of their back line for a nice pass or a hard shot from distance. Their keeper played high off her line and I knew Gabby as well as Heidi could take advantage of that.”

The best East Bladen scoring chance came with under 4 minutes left when Eliana Padilla earned a corner kick. “We played it short to Heidi who was unmarked and put a shot on goal,” stated Raynor. “The ball beat the keeper over her head and was going into the goal. Their defender was running to goal and caught the ball inside the goal and tossed it out of the net. There was a scramble in front of the goal, Cyd hit it and almost went in but the keeper picked it up.

“That was a tough no call there,” said Raynor. “The ref had his whistle in his mouth and I thought he would make the call. He looked to his assistant and play continued. We don’t lose the game because of that call. However, if that call is made the game does change drastically for the next 3:45. Potentially, the game could’ve been 1-2 with 3:45 to play and Franklin playing down a player for the red card on the denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity. That was tough and I think that took all our wind out of us.”

Franklin turned a free kick into a Rogers goal with 3 minutes left. The Lady Patriots tallied another with 1:30 remaining. A misplay on a throw-in resulted in Rice’s 3rd goal of the game.

Raynor praised the play of his team. “Leah (McGill) gave us big minutes throughout the match. When she came in, Leah was instant energy for us. We needed that and it got us going when she was on the pitch. Nene and Jackie gave Franklin fits in the first half. They both were able to get past their backs. I wish we would have been able to press a little more with them as well as send them a few better balls. The chances they generated were great. We couldn’t sustain those attacks or provide adequate balls for them to run onto.

“Cyd locked down the left side and limited attacks down that side all evening, continued Raynor. “Eli was great for us going forward especially in the first half. She provided us with some great runs in the first half and then a couple of key runs late in the game. Her ability to run with the ball as well as serve the ball behind the backs is something I wish we could have capitalized on more tonight.”

Raynor concluded, “I would like to thank all the parents and fans who have supported us this season. It has been an amazing season (15-4-1). A season full of growth with lots of promise for the future. I would like to also thank our seniors for being the standard and leaving our program better than they found it. This group of seniors earned 2 National Awards and went 43-9-1 over their high school careers. We wish Acee, Cydney, and Ranay (Bell) the best and look forward to seeing what God has in store for their future.”

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