BENSON — The West Johnston girls soccer team hasn’t been challenged much this season with its only blemish coming in the form of a rain-shortened draw against Garner.
The Wildcats (11-0-1) faced perhaps their toughest challenge Wednesday night as they needed to come from behind to defeat county rival Cleveland 3-2 in overtime to claim their fourth consecutive Four Oaks Bank Cup championship.
“I think initially it caught them off guard,” West Johnston coach Reid Byrd said of his team needing to respond to the challenge of the Rams’ play. “I think that closer to the end of the game, they started playing together.
“I think it was a real test of how they’re going to come together when we face a challenge.”
Becky Meshaw was in the right place at the right time a mere two minutes into the first golden goal overtime period when she collected a rebound off the post before finally finishing off the Rams.
Heather Bittle, who was named tournament offensive MVP, had a unique perspective on the play as it was her shot that rattled off the framework.
“Becky followed the shot and was just there and was in perfect position—she did what she was supposed to do.”
Despite the Wildcats owning much of the possession in the first half, it was Cleveland (6-4-1) that struck first on a well-orchestrated counter attack in which freshman midfielder Cassidy McNierney found Emily Truelove in stride. Truelove took care of the rest as she maneuvered in front of her defender with her first touch, cut inside and then blasted the ball to the near post for the 1-0 lead and her 15th goal of the season.
“She’s our go-to player,” Cleveland coach Marissa DiMarco said of Truelove. “She feeds everybody and sees the field better than anyone else on the field.”
Bittle and freshman Robin Pollard began working well together in the second half for West Johnston and the duo helped the Wildcats storm back to tie the game and then take the lead within a seven-minute stretch.
To level the game, Pollard sent a great cross from left to right to Bittle who calmly tied the game with one strike in the 45th minute.
Less than seven minutes later, the Wildcats fought to gain possession of the ball inside the Cleveland 18-yard box where Bittle slotted a pass across to Pollard who needed two tries to get the ball past Rams goalkeeper Katelyn Lowery before making the score 2-1.
A great play from Truelove where she weaved in and out of Wildcat defenders along the end line ended when her shot ricocheted off the far post directly to teammate Courtney Morris who simply passed the ball into the back of the net to send the game into overtime.
Heading into the overtime session, however, Byrd liked what he saw in the eyes of his players.
“I saw determination to finish a game that they felt like they could have played better to start with,” said Byrd. “I saw determination to get out on the field and finish it.”
Despite the tough loss, DiMarco saw a lot of positives including the play of three freshmen—Kendall Lamm, Morgan Maxwell and McNierney-- who helped the Rams slow down the vaunted Wildcat attack that came into the contest outscoring opponents 72-5.
“It’s frustrating,” said DiMarco. “They’re a great team and it’s always a battle between us no matter what.
West Johnston’s Morgan Daughtry was named the tournament defensive MVP.