Sole possession of first place in the Mideastern Conference was on the line Thursday night as the home-standing Hoggard Vikings welcomed Laney to Scott Braswell Stadium.
Heading into the match, both sides were unbeaten in league play. The Vikings struck early off a goal by Jess Bennion and Maddie Crumpton gave the home team a two-goal edge off an assist by Sayres McKenna to lead Hoggard in a 3-1 result.
The Vikings improved to 5-0 in conference and 11-1 overall, while the Bucs suffered its first setback of the season to fall to 5-1 and 10-1 on the year.
“We try to get up for every game no matter the opponent and knew tonight we’d have to step it up,” said Hoggard Coach Justin Schatz.
With its second leading scorer (Anna Rae Porcelli) and freshman defender Jenson Edwards sidelined because of injury, the Bucs struggled to keep possession and Hoggard quickly took advantage of the weakened backline. Bennion tallied in the fifth minute when the sophomore broke past the final defender and slid a beautiful touch in the lower right end of frame for the 1-0 lead.
At the time Laney had only surrendered one goal in 10 games and Sydney Young was on her toes in net with six saves, but the Vikings continued its relentless attack midway through the half as McKenna played a perfect ball to Crumpton, who sent a strike into the back of the net from the right edge of the penalty area for the two goal cushion.
“Anytime you get that early goal it definitely gives you confidence, but more importantly it lets you take a breath knowing that you scored first,” said McKenna. “You don’t want to be down a goal and once we went up it was about defending in that first five minutes after the score.
“Maddie’s good at what she does and did a great job finishing on that goal tonight.”
Trailing by two in the 33rd minute, one of Laney’s best opportunities came following a foul as Alex Butorovich sent in a free kick from 30 yards out, but Hannah Wagner was up to task in goal and punched the shot over crossbar.
The Bucs were unable to connect on a handful of corner kicks in the opening period, while Emma Haywood went unmarked inside the box five minutes into the second half and buried a header off the set piece from Bennion in the 45th minute.
Bennion finished with a goal and assist, while McKenna recorded two assists in the match. Wagner was tested early and closed with three stops, all of which came in the first half.
“This game has been talked up a lot between the two teams and inside the conference,” said McKenna. “Everyone has been talking about how if this Hoggard team is as good as last year and I thought we stepped up tonight. It wasn’t about skill. It was about connecting together as a team. Coach does a great job making sure we keep our intensity at a high level and with a competitive non-conference schedule, so right now it’s just about preparing for the next one.”
Laney’s lone goal came in the 69th minute from Butorovich to ruin the shutout.
Hoggard (5-0, 11-0) returns to the pitch at home on April 14. The Bucs (5-1, 10-1) looks to bounce back next week in a non-conference game against Jacksonville.
New Hanover 2 Ashley 0
Sally Sloan and Abbey Campbell each found the back of the net and LB Shapiro picked up two assists for New Hanover in the 2-0 result.
Emily Lester had two saves and Emily Gittings made one stop to preserve the shutout.
Joe Catenacci is a sports writer for Port City Daily and host of The Sports Connection on 103.7 FM at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Mondays. Reach him at email@example.com.