Heritage storms back to hand Liberty first loss

Published | Nov 3, 2023

By Paul Schenkel

Morganton- Last fall, it was regular-season champion Heritage being denied a FAC tournament title at home. This time around, the Lady Eagles did the denying.

Scoring the only upset in any of the 10 contests in FAC tournament action this week, the No. 2 seed Lady Eagles (12-2) soared back from a 2-0 first-half deficit to deny No. 1 seed host Liberty a perfect season and unheard of four-sport fall perfection.

In retrospect, Heritage Middle ends the season with a four-game winning streak including a perfect 3 for 3 mark for the week.

The Lady Knights (13-1) pumped in two goals in the opening 12 minutes.

First, a Kacey Mendoza free kick was corralled on the far post by Lilly Neubauer, who assisted Ana Velasquez’s 3rd-minute goal. Then Angie Vicente Lopez’ drive up the sideline set up Velasquez in the box for a shot that was deflected but went right to Lexi Laws for a goal.

Heritage responded in the 18th minute, however, when Reagan Webb got a breakaway chance that was stopped before she gathered for her rebound to make it a 2-1 game at halftime.

“That first goal, when Reagan scored, I think that kind of built the momentum for us a little bit,” Heritage coach Doug Webb said. “And I told them at halftime, that was our smallest deficit against them at halftime all season long. In the first game we were losing 3-0 at the half, second game we were losing 4-1 at the half. I told them if we could keep it close, we could make something happen. And I think they finally started believing it. Liberty’s had an amazing season. No one’s touched them. So our girls just believing was what turned it around.”

Nearly midway through the second half, in the 43rd minute, Avery Kirkley played a perfect through pass to Heritage leading scorer Marissa Williams for the equalizer.

Then just 3 minutes later, defender Maddy Hudson swooped on a loose ball around 30 yards out and blasted a shot too hot for the goalkeeper to handle for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning score.

Liberty had five corner kicks to Heritage’s two. Lady Eagles sixth-grade keeper Ryan Watson dodged plenty of other bullets, including a series of five near misses over the final 10 minutes. Watson posted six saves (as did LMS keeper Jakyra Jackson) and combined with Hudson and defenders Bailey Winkler, Everly Hang, and Maddie Radabaugh on the shutout effort over the final 48 minutes.

“The defense was awesome,” Webb added. “They stepped up and matched (Liberty’s) aggression. They’re a very aggressive team, they’re very well-coached, they play very well. To be successful, we had to match that, and we did on defense. In the last 10 minutes of the game, I think they were all just running on adrenaline. I know I was. It was awesome.
“It’s a great group of girls. It’s been a fun season.”

Williams finished with four goals in her final week as a Lady Eagle soccer player, including a hat trick in Tuesday’s 6-0 regular-season finale win over East McDowell.

Makenzie Powell added three goals for Heritage Middle (2 vs East McDowell, 1 vs West McDowell in the 2-0 FAC semifinal win).

Avery Kirkley was the other Lady Eagle goal scorer vs. West McDowell.

The Heritage Middle Lady Eagles soccer team (Cooke Photography)

VOLLEYBALL: Liberty 3, Heritage 1

The Lady Eagles (10-4) made a return to the FAC volleyball tournament championship game after last year’s undefeated mark.

This time around, it was the Liberty Middle Lady Knights that finished out the season undefeated with a 14-0 mark and scores of 25-14, 23-25, 25-18, and 25-19.

Leah Clark (23 digs, six kills, four aces), Soraya Hartman (17 kills, 16 digs, seven blocks, six aces), and Alyssa Vasser (10 assists, eight digs, seven kills, two aces) were the top contributors for the Lady Knights to come out on top.

Heritage Middle, seeded second in this week’s tournament after breaking a tiebreaker with West McDowell by criteria, was led by Olivia Miller (20 digs, 12 kills, four aces), Nadiya Nicholas (20 digs, two kills), and Ashlyn Heavner (18 digs, nine kills, six assists, two blocks).

Ansley Compton (14 digs), Hayden Moss (10 digs, nine assists, seven kills, two aces, two blocks), Isabella Aldridge (10 digs), and Isabella McDaniel (six digs, five kills) also contributed to push Liberty.

“Heritage is always a good team,” said Liberty Middle coach Chris Wiseman. “They’re well-coached, well-disciplined, and I tell our girls we’re going to be in a dogfight every time.”

The Lady Eagles got to the championship game with three-set wins over East McDowell (25-16, 25-8, 25-11) in the regular-season finale and West McDowell (25-10, 25-17, 25-12) in the FAC tournament semifinals.

All of the seven aforementioned Heritage Middle players contributed evenly to the two wins

Heavner (28 digs, 18 assists, eight kills, four aces), Moss (20 assists, 12 digs, 10 kills, 10 aces), Miller (26 digs, 11 aces, 10 kills), Compton (20 digs, 10 kills, two aces), Nicholas (20 digs, 10 aces, seven kills), McDaniel (10 digs, five kills), and Aldridge (nine digs, two aces).

-Contributions to stories by Josh McKinney and Jason Baker-

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