CHARLOTTE – As Lydia Drakeford dribbled the soccer ball toward the middle of the field, she heard a distinctive yell.
“Lydia, ball. Lydia, ball.”
It was wide-open teammate Emmily Cowie. Drakeford’s perfect back-pass led to Cowie banging in a 25-yard shot in the first of two overtimes to give Hough High a 1-0 victory against Myers Park on May 21 in the N.C. 4A semifinal.
The Huskies (21-2) advanced to Saturday’s state championship in Raleigh, where they won the title a year ago. They’ll play a rematch against Cary Green Hope at 5 p.m. at N.C. State’s Deal Field.
The key play formed when Brandi Arey’s pass from the left wing was deflected and the ball bounced inside the 18-yard box. Drakeford corralled the ball and made a perfect pass to Cowie, who moved up from her center midfield spot. Her hard shot clanged off the crossbar and into the net.
“ I was thinking ‘Please go in,” Cowie said. “In the second half, I think it hit us that (Myers Park) was here to play. We knew we had to step it up because they wanted it just as much as we did. We needed to settle down and go from there, which we did.”
Drakeford said the pass/goal combination was “the happiest moment I’ve had playing soccer.”
“I think all we needed was motivation and once that kicked in we were ready to go,” she said. “We finally realized this could be the last time we played together.”
Hough started sluggishly and was saved by its defense and goalkeeper Marnie Merritt. She made a diving save 70 seconds into the game and the Huskies fended off three corner kicks in the first three minutes. Myers Park was the aggressor in the first half, but defenders Courtney Crump and Brianna Cuevas consistently turned away shots and clogged passing lanes.
Myers Park clanged two shots off the crossbar, including one early in the second overtime. But Merritt made 11 saves and fittingly, the game ended with her smothering a shot to the left of the net.
“I can’t say enough about Courtney Crump,” Hough coach David Smith said. “She scored 86 goals the past two years in Virginia. She played the first seven games for us at forward and midfield, then she gave one up for the team to play in the back. She’s been amazing. Marnie was outstanding again, as always. We don’t get spoiled by it, but we’re definitely used to it because we see it every day.”
The playoff victory was the second straight in overtime for Hough. Olivia DeMarcus
scored an overtime goal in a 2-1 victory against rival Lake Norman on May 17 in the quarterfinals.
Hough’s win ended Lake Norman’s 24-game winning streak. It was the third straight season they’ve played in the fourth round of the playoffs, and Hough has won all three.
“No disrespect to anyone in the east, but if this isn’t the best rivalry in North Carolina in women’s soccer, I don’t know what is,” Smith said.