BENSON — Taking advantage of a strong start, West Johnston grabbed a stranglehold of the penthouse of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference girls’ soccer standings Wednesday night, pounding Knightdale, 4-1.
Bolstered by a pair of goals from two-sport standout Rebecca Meshaw, the Wildcats took a 3-0 halftime lead, then held off a gritty rally by the Knights to up their record to a perfect 9-0 in the conference, while improving to 12-0-1 overall.
The Knights, who had hopes of upsetting the Wildcats and taking a share of the top rung in the league, instead fell to 8-2 in the GNRC and 8-5-1 overall.
“We had come into the game with the possibility of pulling even with West into first place,” said Knights coach Collin Dalton. “But we are still solidly in second place.
“I feel confident we will push on and make the playoffs.”
But it was the Wildcats who were brimming with confidence in a fateful first half in which West spent a majority of the period in the Knights’ defensive third, and kept pressure on Knightdale goalkeeper Megan Champion.
“I think Megan really kept them (Knights) in the game, despite what the scoreboard indicated,” said West coach Ken Sweat. “She is a super goalkeeper.”
West came out energetic and firing on all cylinders. The Wildcats were rewarded 8 1/2 minutes into the game when Mallory Burton sent a cross to Heather Bittle, who blasted a right-to-left shot for a 1-0 lead.
Meshaw then took over for the Wildcats, adding a goal off a free kick by Madison Covey with 18:15 to play in the half. Covey’s right-to-left kick banged off the left post, but Meshaw was there to finish, pushing the lead to 2-0.
Meshaw connected again with 5:24 left in the half, when Rachel Thomas worked the ball up the right side of the end line and crossed a pass through the crease to Meshaw, who flicked the ball past Champion.
“I was real proud of the girls tonight,” Sweat said. “I thought they played real well and came out very aggressively.”
Dalton attributed the outcome of the first half to the desire of the Wildcats.
“Preparation and the mental want-to,” Dalton said. “It was more on the West Johnston side than that of Knightdale.
“Coming into the game I thought we had a fair chance of winning, based on the first time we played them (a 3-1 victory by the Wildcats March 18 in Knightdale).”
After regrouping at halftime, including alterations to their alignment on the field, the Knights began taking the fight to the Wildcats and pressuring West goal keeper Hannah Stephenson.
But the efforts were futile until Brenna Hardy finished on a cross by Holley Lopez from the middle of the field with 16:30 to play.
Knightdale continued to attack in hopes of getting back into the contest with a late rally, only to be turned away.
“In the second half, I think our girls were a little tired,” Sweat said. “They didn’t realize how much energy they had expended, and the heat took a toll on them. That, and the change that Knightdale made - it spread us out all over the field.”