Caelan Gaul

Close, but no goal.

That’s how Polk County spent the better part of Friday’s state 1A girls soccer playoff game against Mount Airy, controlling play, keeping the ball in the Granite Bears’ end of the field, creating open looks at the net – and getting nothing to successfully convert.

Caelan Gaul finally changed that with some 15 minutes left, scoring on a high drive, and Reese Alley added a penalty kick in the final three minutes as the Wolverines earned a 2-0 victory in a second-round matchup at G.M. Tennant Stadium.

Polk County (12-4-2) advanced to Tuesday’s third round, where the Wolverines will host Pine Lake Prep, 2-0 upset winners over Lincoln Charter in the second round. Pine Lake enters with a 10-8 mark and placed third this season in the tough PAC 7 Conference.

It marks the sixth straight season that the Wolverines have won at least one postseason match.

“We’re very happy at this point,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “Obviously, as I told the team, guess what we’re working on Monday – finishing.”

Polk County defender Rollins Carter heads away a Mount Airy pass during the second half of Friday’s playoff match

Mount Airy (15-7-1) featured senior Baylee Greenwood, the 10th leading scorer all-time in state history with 175 goals. But Greenwood spent the entire game playing defense, her speed and skills constantly thwarting Polk County’s forwards as they surged toward the goal. And what Greenwood didn’t stop, goalkeeper Samantha Stewart usually did, making a handful of saves to keep the Wolverines scoreless.

From the outset Polk County sent balls into the Mount Airy half of the field and played aggressively, and that created several scoring chances. Stewart tipped away shots from Gaul and Belen Akers in the first half, among others, and denied an Akers blast deep inside the penalty area early in the second half.

But the Wolverines finally broke through in the 55th minute. Mireya Roman got possession of the ball on the right wing and rolled a perfect cross ahead of Gaul and two Mount Airy defenders. Gaul won the race to the ball and struck a shot that ricocheted off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net, giving Polk a 1-0 lead.

While Mount Airy began to push forward looking for an equalizing goal, Polk County continued to press, and the effort paid off with 2:25 remaining in the match as Ava Marino dribbled into the penalty area and drew a foul. Alley took the free kick and calmly drilled it past Stewart for the two-goal margin.

“We couldn’t finish, and it cost us in terms of their confidence,” Charles said. “The longer we go without scoring, it gives them a chance to settle. Give them credit – as much as we dominated, they never really panicked.

“We really should have been up by three at the half with the wide-open chances and our throw-ins. We would get what we wanted, but we couldn’t take advantage of the second opportunity.”

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