Fifteen minutes made all the difference.
In that swift timespan late in the first half, West Forsyth girls soccer did all the damage it needed for a 3-1 victory against Duluth on Wednesday at home to advance to the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
Megan Moore, Brooke Pirkle and Meagan McInerney each scored, and the Lady Wolverines (13-4-1) held off Duluth (7-10-1) in the second half for the program’s first playoff victory since 2009 to set up a second round game against Campbell, a 2-1 winner over Alcovy, next Wednesday at home.
“To come out and do what we did today was gratifying after the [regular] season we had,” West head coach Jason Bayush said. “You never know what you’re going to get in the playoffs. You always get the best of the best. … So we’re very fortunate to win and move on.”
In so many ways, Wednesday’s stage was unfamiliar to this Lady Wolverines team. West had not made the playoffs in six seasons. The school was just two years old then and competing in Class AAA. Nor had the Lady Wolverines ever entered as a No. 1 seed as it did after winning Region 6-AAAAAA during the regular season.
But, oh, what a regular season it was. It began and ended, oddly enough, with losses to county rivals. Four games were decided by penalty kicks. West went 1-2-1 during one stretch in early March. Near the end, the Lady Wolverines defeated No. 1-ranked and previously undefeated Lassiter. On April 12, they became region champions for the first time ever.
“It’s been a rollercoaster the last couple of years,” Bayush said.
Bayush steadied a rollercoaster first 20 minutes against Duluth with one strategic move. In came freshman forward Kylie Gazza, but Bayush put her at center back on defense. That brought up junior defender Carsen Parker, the team’s fastest player according to Bayush, to forward.
“We said we’re going to take a chance and see if we can get a spark,” Bayush said.
It worked. West suddenly created two corner kicks opportunities, and on the second Moore came flying in on the back post unguarded for a breath-taking header that put West up 1-0.
Ten minutes later, McInerney and Pirkle worked the ball up the right side, a quick back and forth that Pirkle finished with a low lining shot from 20 yards out. Two and half minutes later, McIlnerney worked the same space with Parker’s help for a goal of her own to give West a 3-0 cushion.
“I think we just wore them out,” McInerney said. “We kept making runs, we kept going hard. We finally just tired them and were able to put it in the back of the net.”
Bayush resorted back to West’s conventional lineup from there – Parker returned to defense, Gazza to forward – and the Lady Wolverines weathered Duluth’s best shot in the second half. Twice goalkeeper A.J. Needham thwarted dangerous opportunities for Duluth. She charged Lady Wildcats forward Nadia Dixon in the 46th minute to disrupt a one-on-one chance. She leapt to make a fingertip save in the 77th minute on a daring shot by Duluth defender Gabby Davis from some 60 yards away.
Kai Jeffries finally struck for Duluth in the 57th minute, but West rode out the rollercoaster game to its end.
“We got the job done,” Bayush said. “I’m proud of the girls.”