SOCCER: Polk County storms past Uwharrie Charter into regional final

Published 11:22 am Friday, May 24, 2024

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Thunder and lightning came first. Rain soon followed.

And then Polk County unleashed the storm.

The Wolverines scored four goals in less than 20 minutes of match time Thursday, the scoring blitz subduing Uwharrie Charter in a 4-2 victory over the Eagles in the fourth round of the state 1A girls soccer playoffs.

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Polk County (15-4-3) got more good news shortly after the end of the rain-delayed win as two-time defending state champion Christ The King scored twice in the final 12 minutes to defeat top-seeded Mountain Island Charter 2-1. That means the Wolverines will host the Crusaders (17-3) in the 1A West Regional final on Tuesday, Polk’s first regional final appearance since 2009.

“It’s been a long, long time since we were in a regional final,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “It’s probably going to sink in over the weekend. I don’t know that it’s quite sunk in yet.”

Shortly after the final whistle, Polk County’s seniors grabbed their belongings and raced away to Awards Night in the high school auditorium. Their efforts on Thursday certainly merited celebration.

Caroline Taylor scored one goal and assisted on two others. Elena Carroll struck the Wolverines’ final tally. Anna Jackson helped lead a Polk County defense that kept Uwharrie standout Jazmin Palma largely quiet until she scored with 12 seconds remaining.

Polk County weathered everything the Eagles had to offer. The Wolverines also outlasted the weather – storms in the area stopped the match at the 13:13 mark of the first half for almost 90 minutes.

“I told the girls in the locker room that I think the break helped us,” Charles said. “It probably helped them, too, but it helped us because at the start of the game, I felt like we had energy and were doing well. They made some adjustments and they had high energy.

“I told the girls that if we score first (after the delay), and then I told them at halftime, if you get the next goal, you’re going to win this game. I said, the next goal is going to change this game.”

Rain still pelted W.J. Miller Field when the teams resumed play in the first half in a scoreless tie. The deadlock didn’t last long, though, as Taylor took control of a loose ball a few yards outside the penalty area and charged through a trio of Uwharrie defenders, eventually driving almost to the six-yard stripe before slipping a low line drive inside the right post, putting Polk up 1-0 with 5:36 left in the half.

Thus Polk scored first, as Charles hoped. And then the Wolverines opened the second half scoring again and again and again.

The first goal came off a corner kick in the 43rd minute. Taylor drilled the corner toward the back post, where Charley Dusenbury looped in unmarked and perfectly placed a header between two Uwharrie defenders, doubling the Wolverines’ lead.

Just more than a minute later, Polk found the net once more. This time, Taylor played a pass forward from midfield, allowing Gabby Savaia to win a footrace down the left flank, take one touch and strike a low roller just out of the reach of charging Eagles goalkeeper Alexis Marion, putting Polk up 3-0.

Carroll capped the scoring in the 54th minute, intercepting a ball in the penalty area that Uwharrie failed to clear and driving a shot into the upper left corner for a 4-0 Polk advantage.

The flurry did not surprise Charles. He only wished it had come sooner.

“If we could have put in one or two of those early chances we had when they were still a little uncertain, still a little shaky, I think what happened in the second half would have happened in the first half,” he said. “Once we started having the better, if we put one or two of those early chances in, then I think it could really have put them down.”

Uwharrie’s Kendal Jarrell broke the shutout for the Eagles in the 56th minute with a blast off the right wing. Palma worked free in the waning seconds and rifled a shot from the top of the penalty area for her 30th goal of the season.

“We learned a lesson that it’s not over until it’s over,” Charles said. “Obviously, you go up four and the intensity goes down a little bit. But when I looked at the clock and saw how much time was left (after Jarrell’s goal). . . you gotta keep playing.

“Once we got that second one, our confidence was up. And then we did a really good job after that maintaining and being safe in the back. We didn’t possess the ball as much, but their dangerous players were up here, so we needed to have the ball down there, and we did that for the most part.”