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KENLY – Sophomore Iveonna “NeNe” Ward fired in a pair of 1st half goals as East Bladen rallied from an early deficit to defeat No. 4 seed North Johnston 2-1 Thursday night in the 2nd round of the NCHSAA 2A Girls Soccer Playoffs.

Coach Jay Raynor’s Lady Eagles won their 10th game in a row and improved to 15-3-1. East Bladen will travel to Wake Forest Monday night for a 3rd round game against No. 12 seed Franklin Academy (17-5) – a 5-2 winner over No. 5 seed Roanoke Rapids Thursday night. North Johnston finished their season with a 15-2-3 record.

The Lady Eagles notched their 1st playoff win on the road in program history.

North Johnston’s star senior Johanna Morales scored just 27 seconds into the game to give the Lady Panthers a quick 1-0 lead. “Within their system she usually would start central and drift left,” noted Raynor. “To start the game they reversed her role and started her out wide.”

Raynor added, “She’s a dangerous player. She is great on the ball, has great size, as well as pace. Her pace and ball skills got behind our backs rather quickly and she hit a shot with the outside of her right foot that went in behind Reese (Hester).”

East Bladen had suffered a quick goal in last year’s playoffs at Roanoke Rapids. “I think that moment helped us today,” said Raynor. “Going down like we did can cause a team to hang their heads. Our response was exactly how it should be. We got the ball back and settled down.”

Raynor continued, “After that first score I felt like we dominated the midfield and the game. Acee (Campbell), Heidi (Rebollar), and Gabby (Rebollar) seemed to stop each attack they tried to run through the midfield. We were able to counter and make numerous runs to goal that were dangerous. I’m not sure their is a midfield combination better than Acee, Heidi, Gabby. Those dominate that part of the field.”

Nine minutes after the Morales goal, the Lady Eagles tied the game. Raynor described the play, “Jackie (Medina-Leal) received a pass from Eli (Padilla) as Jackie cut in behind their left center back. Jackie served a ball into Nene who sent a hard shot past the keeper.”

In the 18th minute East Bladen took the lead 2-1. “Heidi would win the ball in midfield and start an attack combining with Eliana down the right flank,” said Raynor. “Eli got in behind their left back and served a perfect ball to Nene who again finished hard and low past their keeper.

“The play of Eliana and Jackie on that right side today was impressive to say the least,” stated Raynor. “Those two have a great understanding of the game and each other. They both also know if they provide quality service in the box, Nene will be on the other end.”

Raynor continued, “Nene was clutch for us tonight. Her goals won us the game but her play off the ball was just as impressive. Nene did a lot of checking back to midfield to help with 50/50 balls. That aided Acee, Gabby, and Heidi a good bit. Having to make sure Morales was marked as well as (Sydney) Daughtry, forced our midfields to be deep in our half of the field at times. Nene working back helped occupy the space in midfield as well as pulling their backs out. We had countless runs in the game because Nene helped draw those backs away from their goal.

East Bladen outshot the Lady Panthers 8-4 in each half and 16-8 for the game.

Raynor pointed out, “Molly (Evans) did an outstanding job of limiting Morales’ looks at goal. Molly matched her physically and forced her to put the ball on her left foot. Gabby also played a role in limiting Morales. We asked Gabby to shade towards whatever side Morales was on. Gabby made tackle after tackle as well as helped us release the pressure immediately once we forced them to turn it over.

“Anna (Miranda) is playing her best soccer and her confidence has grown substantially,” stated Raynor. “Our last two games the pace and goal scorers played on her side. Anna has not only been successful against those players but she has flourished. She is reading the game and making great decisions in crucial moments.”

Raynor continued, “Cydney (Campbell) came up big for us many times throughout the game. Cyd probably put in the most distance wise with having to get up and back. Proud of her for her level of play and her ability to do that for 80 minutes. Especially within the last 10 as the game seemed to stay on her side.

“We had the better chances during the first 25 minutes of the second half but the game would get hectic within the last 7 minutes,” noted Raynor. “I thought we limited Morales’ touches for the majority of the game. However, she had more touches during the last 7 minutes than the entire game. Might have just felt that way because we made to make some crucial plays at the end.”

Morales was awarded a free kick from 30 yards out in the closing minutes but her shot clanked off the crossbar. “That was probably their most dangerous shot in the 2nd half,” said Raynor. “Reese dealt with all their shots tonight. Reese’s positioning as well as her communication were spot on tonight.”

“I have watched this team grow tremendously over the last several weeks, and they are a team on a mission,” stated Raynor. “They believe in each other and push each other.

“Leah McGill and Macy Potter gave us amazing minutes on the field tonight,” said Raynor. “We had to utilize Leah and Macy up top as forwards tonight. We ask a lot of Leah and Macy but they are always up to the task. Both of those girls work hard and love to compete.”

Raynor concluded, “The ball bounced at times in our direction tonight. The game could have gone either way but our defensive effort combined with our belief in each other willed us to victory.”

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