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ST PAULS – Sophomore Iveonna “NeNe” Ward fired in a ‘Hat Trick’ of 3 goals Friday night to lead East Bladen to a 4-0 Southeastern Athletic Conference girls’ soccer victory over St. Pauls.

“It was an excellent performance from NeNe,” stated Lady Eagle Coach Jay Raynor. “Her energy, her athletic ability, her physicality, and her ability to be dangerous in the box are all things we missed the other night when was out sick and missed the Red Springs game. The way she bounced back tonight was impressive.”

Ward opened the scoring in the 6th minute with a goal off of a pass from junior Molly Evans. The score was stuck at 1-0 until Ward knocked in her 2nd goal in the 32nd minute off of a pass from junior Heidi Rebollar.

“Molly has unlocked another level to our attack,” noted Raynor. “She was on the doorstep tonight with several quality shots. She forced the keeper to make several tough saves. Molly made the most of her runs and had a quality assist to Nene.”

Rebollar delivered her 2nd assist of the game 3 minutes before halftime to set up a goal for sophomore Jackie Medina-Leal who banged in the shot for a 3-0 East lead at intermission.

“Jackie gave St. Pauls a tough time in the flanks tonight and made the most of her chances near the box,” said Raynor. “She scored a great goal in the first half but it was disallowed for a close offsides call. Cydney was dangerous in the flanks and had several great runs that resulted in shots on goal or generated corner kicks for us. Cyd also made many runs on the backside of the goal that we missed. We have to be better finding her on the back post and rewarding those long runs.”

East Bladen outshot the Lady Bulldogs 13-1 in the opening half and 21-1 for the game.

“Proud of the girls and how they played tonight,” added Raynor. “We did a great job of settling into the game that was physical at times. We adjusted and handled that well. I felt that we controlled the game. Heidi, Acee (Campbell), and Gabby(Rebollar) continue to smother any attacks that are attempted to generate in midfield. Those three play tenacious defense and are also able to start our attack instantly.”

With 15 minutes left to play Ward rang up her 3rd goal off a pass from Medina-Leal.

Raynor continued, “Our backs (Anna Miranda, Zoe Smith, Leah McGill) put together a good performance tonight as well. They started out slow and had a few instances they weren’t satisfied with early on. That changed in the second half. Zoe and Anna stopped a few attacks that looked dangerous and held them to one shot, which was a header that Reese (Hester) easily controlled, and to me that says a lot. At times we make mistakes in midfield and in the back, but they solve the issue. That says a lot about those girls in the back.

“Leah McGill has really come on strong and worked her way into the starting lineup,” noted Raynor. “Leah’s tenacity and drive is what has her on the field. She’s playing out of position at right centerback but she is doing an outstanding job. Not only her defending but her ability to get her head up and find the open girl.”

Raynor noted, “This team has been one our best defensive statistical teams that we have put on the field in some time. That speaks volumes about these girls. I hope over the week to get them to better understand of how well they are playing.”

With the win the Lady Eagles finished 8-2 in SAC-7 play and are 13-3-1 overall.

“We do need to continue to polish a few things prior to the playoffs,” said Raynor. “Set pieces and mistakes (physical and mental). At this point of the season, teams will punish you for the mistakes you make. We are doing a great job of earning corner kicks, free kicks, and throw-ins deep in our opponents half.”

The East Bladen jayvees will play at Hoke on Tuesday.

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