TRINITY — Wheatmore didn’t want to overlook its first playoff opponent. But with a strong performance, it wasn’t anything it couldn’t handle.
The seventh-seeded Warriors connected well on set pieces to help build a three-goal lead in the first half and pulled away to beat 10th-seeded East Duplin 6-1 on Monday at Wheatmore in the opening round of the NCHSAA 2A East girls soccer playoffs.
“I’m happy to come out with a win,” Wheatmore coach Rick Maness said. “I was really worried about this game. I knew what (East Duplin) had done coming in — they’re a good team and they move the ball very well. But I’m proud of the kids for how hard they fought.”
Ellie Garrison scored two goals to lead the Warriors (11-0), the PAC-7 champions who are ranked No. 34 in the state overall and No. 8 among NCHSAA 2A teams by MaxPreps. Summer Bowman added a goal and an assist, while Kara Comer had two assists.
Rian Perry, Maggie Messner and Haley Vazquez each scored one goal as Wheatmore advanced to face second-seeded Croatan (13-0-1), which beat 15th-seeded SouthWest Edgecombe 9-0, in the second round. That match is scheduled for Wednesday night at Croatan.
“I felt like it was a really big accomplishment for us,” said Garrison, a freshman forward. “We’ve been thinking about playoffs for a while, and just really focusing on passing and connecting with the team, putting our teammates first and thinking what’s best for the team. I think we really came together on this one.”
Taking the initiative early, the Warriors, after having a header off a corner kick hit off the crossbar in the seventh minute, converted in the eighth minute when Comer lofted a corner kick in from the right flag that found Garrison near the far post for a header and a 1-0 lead.
Wheatmore extended its lead in the 19th minute when Bowman ripped a 25-yard free kick that hit off the goalkeeper and still found the net. It added to its lead in the 26th minute when Garrison took the ball near the top of the box, turned around her defender and scored along the left side.
East Duplin (11-3), which finished second in the East Central Conference, answered in the 35th minute on a run up the left side. But the Warriors bounced right back in the 37th minute when Perry headed in another corner kick from Comer from the right side to take a 4-1 lead into halftime.
“I feel like everyone kind of felt the same — we needed to get this win, needed to keep on pushing,” Garrison said. “We were doing a great job and we just needed to keep that momentum up.
“It felt amazing. It was so exciting to be playing with this team in the playoffs. It’s amazing we came out with a win. We worked really well together and I’m just proud of all of us.”
Wheatmore, not allowing the Panthers to get back into the match, added second-half goals by Messner, scoring off a rebound following a hard shot by Bowman, in the 47th minute and by Vazquez, lofting a 20-yard shot over the goalkeeper, in the 59th minute.
Victoria Lowe made two saves in goal for the Warriors, who outshot East Duplin 28-10 for the match.
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