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The Fike High varsity boys soccer team cranked enough shots to fill a shot chart and generated enough dangerous opportunities to collect a dozen goals.
But the top-seeded Golden Demons settled for three goals in the final 28 minutes to pull away from archrival Hunt, 4-1, in the 3-A Big East Conference tournament semifinals on a chilly Tuesday evening on the Fike pitch.
The third conquest of the Warriors this season and the sixth straight in the last two seasons vaulted Fike into Thursday evening’s championship match at 7 on the Fike pitch against Franklinton, a 4-2 winner over Southern Nash in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
The Demons outscored Hunt 16-1 in the three triumphs and, with their 12th consecutive win, hiked their record to 15-2-1.
No. 4-seeded Hunt likely saw the first season of head coach Phil Long ended with a record of 7-12-2.
Hunt, following last week’s regular-season loss at Fike, wanted another shot at its archrival and played committed to that request for over 50 minutes. The score was knotted 1-1 when the regular-season champion Demons launched their pull-away spree.
“Finally,” remarked junior Mason Lee, who sparked Fike with a pair of goals.
“We did fine creating opportunities,” reviewed Fike head coach Chris Mizelle, who talked at length with his players following the match. “We just found ourselves being careless at times.”
Lee finally laced the go-ahead goal on an assist from junior Kevin Mendoza with 27 minutes, 55 seconds remaining.
Seconds later, senior Myles Cyrus was unable to finish on a pass from Lee at the mouth of the goal.
Fike then repelled a pair of Hunt threats before launching its next assault. On three occasions, shots from senior Israel Villalobos just missed the mark or were stopped by junior Warriors’ goalkeeper Ty Philpott. Ditto for senior Myles Cyrus on a pair of occasions.
Then, with 10:32 remaining, Lee provided breathing room. Sophomore Jarrett Smith served the ball, which was headed by sophomore Gavin Wheeler. Lee fielded the header and drilled Fike to a 3-1 lead.
Then, after a pair of near-misses each from Cyrus and senior Jaylen Guillen, junior Jalen Pearce knocked in the final Fike goal with 2:54 showing.
“I was just overlapping and going up to create opportunities for us,” Lee explained his role.
Lee joined senior goalkeeper Tanner Sullivan, senior Clayton Snyder, Smith and freshman Oc Bolt in a solid defensive performance.
“We played terrible,” Lee declared. “This was one of our worst games all year. They were winning every 50-50 ball. We were not as focused as we usually are.”
Mizelle didn’t disagree, adding: “We needed something like this. I think maybe we had gotten to the point that we were taking how well we have been playing for granted. Tonight lit a fire a little bit — we needed it. I hope it will open our eyes and expect us to play better. But (Hunt) is getting better, no doubt.”
Fike, coming off a first-round bye, wasted no time peppering the Hunt goal. Mendoza and Cyrus generated threats. However, Hunt, a 2-0 winner against Rocky Mount in the first round Monday, countered with shots from seniors Kevin Moreno and Michael Le and managed an excellent opportunity when senior Obed Mendoza looped the ball to junior Alex Cruz, who was stationed near the goal. The Warriors also got a save from Lee on a Fike free kick. Junior Esai Torres also came to Philpott’s rescue during a flurry.
The Demons emerged with a 1-0 halftime lead with Cyrus’ goal in the seventh minute.
But after going over 205 minutes without a goal against Fike this season, Hunt evened the score at 1-1 in the sixth minute. Sullivan rushed far out of goal and Le blooped a shot into an open goal — just before Fike defender Smith could arrive.
The rest of the second half, the Warriors threatened on a Mendoza blast that was stopped with one hand by Sullivan; a Moreno missile just over the goal and, finally, a Le attempt with some four minutes left.
“I am a little disappointed in the result,” admitted Hunt senior defender Andrew McVey. “But I am very glad to be a part of this team. We have grown tremendously as a team and worked hard collectively.
“We were glad to be able to have this chance and I am very proud of our team. When the score was 1-1, it was very stressful. But it gave us hope. We didn’t want to step too far out and get scored on a couple of times.”
But that happened.
“I’m impressed with their work ethic,” McVey commended the Demons. “Good luck to Fike the rest of the way.”