SOUTH CHINA — Knowing Wednesday’s Class B South girls soccer quarterfinal at Erskine Academy likely would not be played in country club conditions, York girls soccer coach Nick Hanlon held practice this week in cold, wet, windy weather.

The preparation paid off, as the fifth-seeded Wildcats scored a goal in each half to eliminate the No. 4 Eagles, 2-0, on a breezy, overcast afternoon and advance to Saturday’s regional semifinals.

“We’ve spent the last two days outside practicing, in some bad weather, just keeping the ball on the ground, get used to the skips, get used to the slick surface,” Hanlon said. “I applaud Erskine; the field is in fabulous shape, way better than our field down in York.”

In addition to hard work, the Wildcats also had a little luck after they won the coin toss and had the wind at their backs for the first half. But Erskine coach Mike Falla made no excuses.

“They gave everything they had,” said Falla of his team, which ended the season 11-4-1 and saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end. “I’m very proud of them. With the wind in the first half, keeping it to a one-goal lead was incredibly advantageous. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the girls.  It was a very quality York team and I think our girls had a good showing.”

Although on the attack for most of the first half, York (11-4-1) remained patient and chipped away with pinpoint passes, accurate set pieces and plenty of shots at Erskine goalkeeper Sophia Pilotte, who was greeted by grateful chants from the Eagles’ supporters after every one of her 12 saves.

York’s persistence paid off with 1 minute, 16 seconds left in the first half, when Elizabeth Buckley converted Tara Howe’s feed following a corner kick by teammate Chloe Bourque.

Erskine goalkeeper Sophia Pilotte (0) gives up a goal to York’s Elizabeth Buckley (35) late in the first half during a Class B South girls soccer quarterfinal game Wednesdayin South China. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The Wildcats doubled the score with 33:47 left in the game when Ella Boissonneaul beat an onrushing Pilotte for the ball just outside the box and booted a pop fly that went over Pilotte and into the empty net.

With the wind at their backs in the second half, the Eagles mounted a comeback attempt, but several booming shots by senior midfielder Riley Reitchel — a thorn in York’s side all afternoon — were smothered by York keeper Allie MacDonald (11 saves).

While Erskine’s season ended in disappointment, there was still much to celebrate, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic reduced last season to an exhibition schedule. The Eagles secured back-t0-back home playoff games and won a postseason game this fall — 3-0 over Lincoln on Saturday in the first round — neither of which had happened in recent memory.

“I’m glad we had playoffs this year,” Reitchel, who plans to play soccer in college next season, said. “This is the first team we’ve had past the first round since I’ve been here, so I think that’s an accomplishment in itself.”

Falla agreed.

“It’s been a great season to able to watch Heal points again, to know there’s a postseason,” the coach said. “These players need a postseason. It’s healthy for them, it’s healthy for the whole league, all the players, to have a postseason. They worked for it, and we gained home-field advantage.”

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