After the final whistle sounded Thursday evening, the tone in the voice of Rocky Mount High girls’ soccer coach Drew Nick was no different than it would have been in victory.
“Line up ladies, let’s go,” Nick said.
The Gryphons had just suffered a physically-draining, 2-1 loss to rival Wilson Fike in the finals of the Big East Conference soccer tournament.
It was a defeat that kept Rocky Mount from earning a sweep of the league’s regular-season and tournament championships, but Nick made sure his players understood their accomplishments rather than the results of a two-hour grudge match against the Golden Demons.
“It was a battle,” Nick said, as his players, exhausted from the 90-degree heat, dispersed from the Gryphons’ sideline. “You say you want to be disappointed in a loss, but you can’t be. Those were two good teams battling out on the field. Unfortunately, this one didn’t go our way.”
Katherine Stokely scored off a corner kick from teammate Lindsey Rhyne with less 3:59 remaining in regulation to give Wilson Fike the go-ahead goal.
The third-seeded Golden Demons never trailed in the contest. Wilson Fike, which earned the league’s No. 2 seed for next week’s NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs, struck first when Stokely slipped behind a gap in the middle of Rocky Mount’s backline and scored with 12:30 remaining in the first half.
Top-ranked Rocky Mount had its chances in the first half, but Kasey Cooke’s shot in the first minute hit the post, and another quality shot sailed just high of the crossbar.
Kaitlyn Jacob scored the equalizer for the Gryphons when she settled a corner kick on the back side and fired home a shot past Golden Demons goalkeeper Laura Bland with 24 minutes to play in regulation.
Wilson Fike, which played an overtime contest Tuesday against Wilson Hunt, responded with Stokely’s late goal, taking two of the three meetings between the teams this season.
The Golden Demons were the only Big East team to defeat Rocky Mount this season.
“We do give people their money’s worth, that’s for sure,” Wilson Fike coach Toni Varacchi said. “Our last two games were absoulute battles from beginning to end. Hunt, Rocky Mount and ourselves are teams that are going to go a few rounds in the playoffs. I think my team is coming together at the right time.”
Rocky Mount will open state playoffs action against Eastern Wayne at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
It will do so, in Nick’s mind, undeterred. Nick is looking at the season with a broad paintbrush and not the blemish of Thursday’s loss.
“You measure 20 games to two games, and that’s the difference in winning our conference and our conference tournament,” Nick said. “I’m very proud of what our girls have accomplished, and there’s still more to accomplish. You play for championships, and we brought one home this year.”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com