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‘Locked-in’ Cyclones lock down Christ Covenant for MACAA crown

GOLDSBORO — With increasing urgency as the journey unfolded, the Community Christian School varsity girls soccer team — with six middle schoolers in the starting lineup — embraced defense as a viable path to the Mid-Atlantic Christian Athletic Association championship.

The Cyclones, who adopted the theme of “Locked in” to describe their focus this season, realized that goal Saturday afternoon at Faith Christian Academy by locking down Christ Covenant of Winterville, the same team CCS lost at home to by a 4-3 score April 18. CCS prevailed 1-0 in the MACAA final.

The winning goal came on a penalty kick by sixth grader Haley Brown in the 58th minute and the Cyclones hung on for their eighth shutout.

Junior stopper Gracie Beamon, who is in her first year playing soccer, was named tournament MVP while freshman Katelyn Brown and eighth grader Libby Bass earned all-tournament status after the Cyclones won three playing off games by a combined 13-1 score. The one goal came on a PK by first-round opponent Gramercy Christian.

“Each one of these girls played a vital role on the defensive side of the ball, and for this tournament, the old  saying came true again — defense wins championships,” CCS head coach Carl Bradshaw wrote in an email.

Community Christian, which lost its first two games this season at The Brittany XVIII by a combined 15-3 score, finished 14-4, including a 9-0 run in MACAA 2-A North Conference play in which CCS outscored the opposition 61-7. The two teams that beat the Cyclones in The Brittany were Rocky Mount Academy, currently ranked No. 1 in the NCISAA 2-A ranks, and East Duplin, No. 4 in the NCHSAA 2-A East.

The day after falling to Christ Covenant at home April 18, CCS was clipped 1-0 by Greenville Christian of the North Carolina Christian School Association, then reeled off six straight wins, culminating in the championship of MACAA, in its second year.

Saturday’s final was a tense affair with neither side mustering much of an attack. The Spartans (15-3) and Cyclones each took two shots on goal in the scoreless first half. Nearly halfway through the second half, Christ Covenant was whistled for a hand ball in the box. Bradshaw turned to Brown, one of the two sixth graders on the team who had already played that morning with her Wilson Youth Soccer Association team.

Brown “stepped up with confidence when called upon. She placed the ball on the spot, took six steps back, and tucked the ball into the left corner of the goal where it was out of reach for Olivia Entzminger, the Christ Covenant goalie,” Bradshaw wrote.

It was the 15th goal this season for Brown, who trails only Ava Dunn for the team lead.

Just two minutes later, the game was halted for a water break.

“I got the girls together on the bench, and I pleaded with them to keep pushing hard, to play smart soccer and to play with confidence to close out the game,” Bradshaw said.

That’s exactly what they did, keeping Christ Covenant from any serious looks at the goal and keeper Claire Carter did the rest.

Haley Brown and eighth graders Dunn and Autumn Bradshaw were named to the All-MACAA North squad. Dunn had 21 goals and eight assists for 50 points while Brown added six assists. Autumn Bradshaw, primarily a defender, had five goals and 10 assists.

This is the first state association title for CCS girls soccer since the Cyclones won their second straight NCISAA 1-A crown under head coach Rhine Sharp.

The Cyclones will graduate two seniors, Faith Jones and Taylor Ricks, but have a core that could be around for another 4-5 years.

“As a coach, I was very encouraged and very thankful to help lead this team,” wrote Bradshaw, who was assisted by Claire Brown, John Carter and Steven Paul LoRusso Jr. “This was a very young team that was not expected to make a deep playoff run after graduating Abigail Jackson last year and losing a couple of key pieces of our team to the public school system. These girls worked hard and as the season progressed, they started to really believe that they could make it to the championship game.”

Bradshaw vowed: “We are looking forward to making a run at it again next season.”