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With 40 minutes to erase an 1-0 deficit and continue a championship season, the Fike High varsity boys soccer team performed with inspired urgency in rallying to a 2-1 victory against Gray’s Creek on a cold Saturday night in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs on the Fike High pitch.
The Golden Demons, seeded No. 7 among the 16 East Region qualifiers and regular-season and tournament champs from the Big East Conference, continued their season with their 16th win against four losses and a tie and by advancing into the third round at No. 2 Chapel Hill on Tuesday or Wednesday. Chapel Hill ousted Northern Durham, 2-0, on Saturday.
Gray’s Creek, the No. 10 seed and the top 3-A finisher in the 3-A/4-A Patriot Conference, exited at 19-6-1.
“It feels great,” clamored senior Kevin Mendoza, who drilled in both Fike goals. “This is the first time since 2007 that a boys soccer team from Fike has reached the third round. “
Mendoza not only felt great but relieved because the Demons held on to their 2-1 edge after Mendoza missed a penalty kick with eight frantic minutes left.
Mizelle doubts an individual has performed more impressively in the first two rounds of the playoff than Mendoza.
“He played sensational the other night (against Northwood) and he was great tonight,” Mizelle commended.
Instead of becoming frustrated when excellent opportunity after excellent opportunity refused to find the net, Mendoza and company ratcheted their determination in a fast-paced thriller.
Fike began the second half a different team. Its attacks were relentless.
Senior Mason Lee failed to finish an opportunity off a free kick. Senior Gavin Wheeler’s shot wouldn’t go. Mendoza’s blast sailed over the net. Wheeler fired again. Sophomore Taylor Sullivan created a chance off a corner kick.
Finally, with some 23 minutes remaining, Mendoza corralled a loose ball and laced the tying goal.
The assault continued with shots from Wheeler, Mendoza, Sullivan and Wheeler again that sternly tested Bears junior goalkeeper Robert Ison and his defensive cast.
Mendoza cranked in his second goal and the jubilant Demons led 2-1 with 9:11 showing. But on the penalty kick, he missed the chance to all but seal the outcome slightly over a minute later.
“I always go right (to the goalkeeper’s left),” Mendoza explained. “He guessed right and made a good save. It was a good shot, but credit to him.”
Of the goals, Mendoza described: “I try to help my teammates; this time it was Gavin. The ball rebounded off somebody and I happened to be there to put it in.
“The second one was just usual. I saw an open space and took it upon myself… we about had a miscommunication.”
The Bears were left wounded and dazed and what efforts they could generate the final seven-plus minutes were repelled by unflappable freshman Fike keeper Mason Ross and his back line of Lee, junior Jarrett Smith, sophomore Oc Bolt and senior Ezekiel Quiroz-Lopez. Ross got help from Bolt in stopping a shot by Bears’ senior Dakota Bessey.
“We didn’t play as well the second half,” said Gray’s Creek head coach Bryan Pagan. “We started losing 50-50 balls in the middle of the field. I thought we surprised them and had them on their heels the entire first half. But they are a good team and you have to play both halves.”
The Bears scored in the seventh minute. Sophomore Nicholas Hallis finished off an assist from senior playmaker Trevor Horne.
Horne constantly created in the first half and senior Thomas Smith registered a trio of near-misses. Junior Eric Chavez proved a headache for the Demons.
Fike generated chances and thought it had finished one in the first half. The officials didn’t agree.
As Fike assistant coach Chad Halverson observed: “Only the goalkeeper knows for sure.”
Demons players not only heeded Mizelle’s halftime message but his strategical changes. Fike targeted a vulnerable Bears defender and Chavez became a non-factor. Pivotal was negating the Bears’ ability to win balls in the center circle and spring its attack in various directions.
“We spent the first 25 minutes figuring out if we wanted to play,” Mizelle reviewed. “And we closed the first half on a great tear. We didn’t lose that momentum at halftime. We created a lot of chances and got two quality goals.
“(Gray’s Creek) was a high-energy group prepared to play. They had a hunger about them. But we finally got comfortable doing what has been successful for us all along, and got two goals out of it.”
Added Mendoza: “We got our energy back. In the first half, we didn’t come out with everything.”