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Before the proverbial rug was yanked out from underneath his Hunt High varsity girls soccer team by Fike senior standout Reily Nelson’s hat trick two weeks ago, first-year head coach Richard Frazier thought his Lady Warriors possessed the superior side between the archrivals.
In Thursday’s rematch, Hunt provided tangible evidence for his theory.
Nelson went down with a right-leg injury late in the first half and didn’t return, leaving the Lady Golden Demons without their biggest scoring punch. But by that time, Hunt had already put away a pair of goals, and that margin was enough to carry the evening in a 2-0 victory that stands to split the 3-A Big East Conference championship between the two.
Fike, in having its nine-game winning streak snapped, dropped to 9-6 overall and finished the conference season at 9-1. Hunt vaulted to 10-6-2 in all games and 8-1 within the conference. Should the Lady Warriors defeat Franklinton in a makeup contest at home Friday, the teams will share the Big East championship. Soon after the final whistle, Frazier and Fike head coach Toni Varacchi met for a coin flip to determine the top seed for the conference tournament in the event of a tie, which was won by the Lady Demons.
“The effort was very good,” Frazier said. “We don’t have one scorer, so we have a team of scorers. We worked just as hard as they did and had a two-goal lead at the half. I thought we had more chances.”
Indeed, Hunt held Fike to just three shots in the first half behind a tenacious defense of junior Miriam Herrea, sophomore Alea Jones, senior Makala Brown and senior Madison Bass. Fike tried to connect passes on the ground in the opening minutes, but could not find the finish.
In the fifth minute, Hunt scored its first goal. Deep in the Fike defensive third, a high ball took a bounce and was headed to the feet of junior Sophia Fox, who gathered and sent it past Fike junior keeper Jah’asia Pernell for the early Hunt lead.
Nelson generated her best opportunity in the 17th minute with a run through the middle, but the ball struck the left post and harmlessly away.
Off a Fike foul in the 30th minute, Hunt created the final margin off an indefensible free kick from Brown. From the left side, Brown put her right foot into a kick from approximately 35 yards away, remaining high and out of the reach of Pernell. The Lady Warriors led 2-0, and Fike, despite pushing forward in the final moments, never produced a dangerous ball against Hunt’s second-half goalkeeper in junior Rachel Cox. Senior Madison Parker played the first half for Hunt, making one save.
“I was hoping it was going in!” Brown said of her free kick.
Hunt exhibited an 17-8 advantage on shots and put eight on frame, compared to five for Fike.
Nelson’s injury was just the beginning for a Lady Demons side already battling depth concerns. Still without freshman Payton Lentz, Fike took another blow when senior midfielder Claire Dixon walked off gingerly in the 52nd minute. Dixon returned with 10 minutes remaining and attempted to lead the charge with numbers forward, but it was unsuccessful. Sophomore Riley Patterson kept Hunt’s margin at two goals with strong, physical play defensively.
Both Varacchi and Dixon conceded the Lady Warriors owned play in the midfield.
“We were weak through the midfield,” Varacchi said. “Hunt had a step on us.”
Added Dixon: “It definitely wasn’t our best play tonight. Losing Reily was definitely a blow. She’s something special.”
Varacchi, making her second appearance on the Fike bench since being reinstated following a Wilson County Schools investigation that cleared her of any wrongdoing following a complaint of mistreatment from one of her player’s parents, was welcomed back to the sidelines by Frazier, who termed it an “honor” to coach against “one of the best soccer coaches in the state.”
Nevertheless, Hunt staked its counterclaim to the No. 1 playoff seed out of the Big East with the win. A third and final meeting could come in next week’s Big East tournament championship game.
“We felt like we were the better team,” Frazier said of the first meeting. “We outpossessed them.”