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Lady Demons upset by Northern Durham, 3-2, in 3-A first round

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The 400th win at the helm of the Fike High varsity girls soccer program for head coach Toni Varacchi will now have to wait an entire offseason.

In the first half of Tuesday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A first-round playoff match against Northern Durham, the Lady Golden Demons faced a barrage of quality opportunities on their goal, only to be turned away by strong goalkeeping from junior Jah’asia Pernell. Pernell recorded nine saves in the opening 40 minutes as the teams departed for halftime scoreless.

But in the second half, the lids lifted on both goals. Fike’s defense did not improve. And the result was a rare first-round postseason exit for the Lady Golden Demons.

Fike twice answered Northern Durham tallies to make it a 2-2 match, but Northern Durham struck for the game winner in the 64th minute from 5 yards out, sending the Lady Knights to the upset in a 3-2 victory.

Fike, the Big East Conference regular season co-champion and tournament champion, had its season ended at 11-7 as the No. 10 seed. Northern Durham, the No. 23 seed and the fourth-place team from the Big Eight Conference, vaulted to 15-6-1 and will face the Eastern Alamance-Charles B. Aycock winner in the second round.

“It’s disappointing to go out in the first round,” Varacchi said. “We had a down year and we knew that going in. So, that’s how it happens.”

Northern Durham opened the scoring in the 50th minute when Chelsy Huerta struck unassisted under the crossbar. On two occasions, Fike, missing sophomore Sara Grayson Sumner, equalized quickly. Claire Dixon, one of seven Fike seniors, kicked the ball into the box where classmate Reily Nelson stepped in and put it away.

Fike’s defense lapsed in the 60th, allowing Northern Durham’s Jenna Garrison to slip a ball past Pernell. But quickly off the faceoff, the Lady Demons drew a PK. Nelson took it and put it away to tie it up at 2. But Northern Durham provided the game winner less than three minutes later off a cross from Autumn Connors.

Varacchi groused at the notion that the scoreless half under siege served as a foreshadowing of things to come. In the first 40 minutes, Fike was outshot 13-10, with a 9-5 edge in shots on frame going to Northern Durham.

“If you’re asking me if I thought my team was going to lose in the first half, my answer is no,” she said. “I knew we’d be in a tough game. There was no doubt. Regardless of who we played, I knew we’d be in a tough game.”

Mikayla Atkinson, Rachel Boswell, Dixon, Jeidy Cruz, Madeline Richardson, Marilu Garcia-Garnica and Nelson played their final games for the Lady Demons.

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