It was the quickest of moments, Reese Alley glancing at Polk County’s bench, assistant coach (and dad) George Alley responding with a nod.
That nod meant “go for it,” in George Alley’s words, and his youngest daughter did, blazing a direct kick from some 40 yards out into the upper corner of the net.
That goal gave Polk County a 3-1 lead early in the second half of Wednesday’s state 1A playoffs and was one of four Alley scored in the Wolverines’ 4-2 victory over Pine Lake Prep at G.M. Tennant Stadium.
The triumph moves Polk County (14-4-2) into the 1A quarterfinals and a matchup with 20-0 Union Academy, the top seed in the 1A West bracket. Union defeated Community School of Davidson 1-0 in its third-round match. Date and time for the quarterfinal is to be determined.
Three of Alley’s goals came on shots from 35 yards out and longer, each striking home in the upper half of the goal. That was by design, an idea Polk County coaches fashioned after a scouting trip to Pine Lake’s 2-0 win last week over Lincoln Charter.
Having a plan is one thing; executing it against a quality opponent is another. Pine Lake (10-9) proved to be just that, pushing the Wolverines with speed and aggressiveness from the opening whistle.
“We knew going in they were a better team, obviously, in the third round,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “What they did against Lincoln Charter, they had success outside, we knew that would be a challenge for us. And it was a challenge and forced us to change our formation a little bit.
“We played hard. We played really well at times in terms of getting the ball upfield and controlling the ball and moving the ball around.”
Pine Lake threatened early, keeping the ball in Polk County’s end and earning a series of corner kicks. Wolverine goalkeeper Sara Muse kept one of the corners from turning into an early goal, tipping away a high Pride shot.
Polk got its first real scoring opportunity in the 23rd minute as Jen Guerrero put a header on goal. The Wolverines then broke through less than a minute later as Alley took a pass from Ava Marino, found free space some 35 yards out and let loose a shot that curled into the upper left corner of the net.
Marino also set up Alley’s second goal, drawing a foul in the penalty area in the 31st minute. Alley connected on the free kick to give Polk a 2-0 lead.
Pine Lake answered with a Lydia Sparks goal in the 37th minute, but Alley answered with her long-distance blast early in the second half. She upped the Wolverine lead to 4-1 on another long direct kick with some 21 minutes remaining.
The Pride got one of those goals back in the waning minutes as senior Janey Krehnbrink scored, but that would be it as Muse and the Wolverine defense held firm.
“Ava did a great job holding balls up,” Charles said. “I know everyone wants to talk about Reese and her four goals, and Reese played really well, which she has been doing.
“But Ava was really important for us. On the other end, Aria Shields had her best overall game of the season. She was key back there for us.”