GOLDSBORO — It certainly wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t even a win.
But Princeton did what it needed to do on the Pope Field pitch Wednesday night.
Kassandra Velasquez and Chelsea Hawley each scored in the first five minutes, and the Bulldogs made it hold up for a 2-2 tie with Rosewood that gave them the Carolina 1A girls’ soccer title and the conference’s top seed for the state playoffs.
The win improved the Bulldogs to 14-2-1, 11-0-1 in conference action, while Rosewood fell to 10-1-1 and 10-3-4. Rosewood, which fell to the Bulldogs 3-1 on April 4 at Princeton, would have tied for the conference title with a win on Wednesday.
Not all came up roses for the Bulldogs, however, as Princeton’s Bautista and Jessica Brush were red-carded along with Rosewood’s Samantha Allen and Maria Santibanez after an altercation at the 42-minute mark. All four players will serve two-game suspensions as a result.
“It feels great to win a championship in my first year,” said Princeton coach Morgan Brush, who graduated from the school before going off to Barton College and is in her first season at the helm. “But I give it to the girls. They’ve done a great thing and it’s an undefeated (conference) season. Tonight was tough and we struggled a little bit, but we played through it. Rosewood is a strong team, but we were focused and we knew that as a team we were better than them. Playing with nine was a challenge, but we were able to get it done.”
Hawley scored her 19th goal of the season from inside the box on the Bulldogs’ first trip down the field with McKenzie Smale on the helper. And then Bautista doubled the score with her matching 19th goal on a close-in assist from Emily Woodward nine minutes in.
But the Eagles fought back later in the half. Lexi Mercer scored on a tip-in in the 23rd minute and again on a follow shot in the 27th.
“I was proud of the way we responded after going down two goals that early,” Rosewood coach Daniel Mitchell said. “I thought both teams put together good effort in the first half and then the second half was kind of sluggish.
“But that was our best effort of the year, team-wise.”
Princeton finished with 20 shots to 14 for the hosts. Hannah Horne was in goal for the Bulldogs except for a few minutes following a hard collision in the first half, and Patrice Robertson went all the way for the Eagles.
Hawley said the two early goals gave the Bulldogs plenty of momentum.
“McKenzie made a great pass to me just inside the 18,” Hawley said of her goal. “We let our guard down and then we got distracted, but fortunately we were able to tie.
“It’s going to hurt having to play without two of our best players, but we’ll just have to go out and play good soccer.”
Velasquez will be a big loss as she sits out for the Bulldogs, hoping her team can somehow win the first two rounds of the state playoffs. The Bulldogs will begin playoff action on Wednesday at home, as will all other conference champions.
“Emily got me a great pass right in front of the goal, so I couldn’t miss,” Velasquez said. “That fight isn’t how we are and who we are. It happened in the heat of the moment, and we can’t let anything like that happen again.”