by Cliff Mehrtens

Hough High’s unbeaten girls soccer team was in an unusual situation.

The Huskies allowed a goal in the first minute of a Class 4A playoff game May 16 at Skyland Roberson.

“We hadn’t been behind in a game since March 12,” Hough coach David Smith said. “It was a ball that went off (goalkeeper) Marnie Merritt’s hands, a one-in-a-million mistake because she’s saved our butts plenty of times. But I was really pleased with our composure. The seniors stepped up to lead us.”

Hough’s players shook off the effects of a four-hour bus ride and rallied to take a 2-1 halftime lead on goals by Hannah Robinson and Allison Stearns.

The Huskies controlled play in the second half and advanced to a fourth-round playoff against rival Lake Norman on May 18.

A first-minute goal worked in Hough’s favor this time, as Lindsey Byrne scored 22 seconds into the game. The Huskies withstood Lake Norman’s strong offensive push in the first half and with five minutes left went ahead 2-0 on midfielder Robinson’s goal. Courtney Carroll and Allison Stearns had assists for Hough.

Hough improved to 24-0-1 and extended its winning streak to 23. Lake Norman finished 22-3, with all three losses to Hough.

“You could really see the elation on our players’ faces,” Smith said. “It’s a great group of girls. They’ve really been focused.”

Hough advanced to the semifinal against Providence, scheduled for Wednesday, May 23. A victory would earn the Huskies a trip to the state championship on Saturday, May 26, in Raleigh.

Hough beat Providence, 3-0, in a regular-season game on March 7. It was a close match most of the way, until Hough scored twice in the final five minutes.

“They’re a scary team,” Smith said, referring to Providence (18-4-1). “They have some power up top, but I think we match up well with them. Also, playing at home is huge for us.”