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Union Pines nips Lee in return match

Apr. 16—The race for the 2024 women's soccer title in the Sandhills Athletic Conference may come right down to the wire, or even past it.

Needing a win to get into a first-place tie in the standings, Union Pines came to Lee County Friday night and used a late goal to earn a 3-2 victory and put the two teams into a tie atop the conference standings.

The Lady Jackets (12-3, 5-1 SAC) had a 10-match winning streak snapped. The third win of that streak had come exactly a month earlier at Union Pines, a team that Lee County had not beaten in at least a dozen years, if ever at all. They were trying to make it two in a row Friday night, and appeared to be well-positioned to do so after a goal in the 58th minute pulled them even with the Lady Vikings at 2-2. However, Union Pines (8-3-1, 5-1) was able to get one more goal and pull out the win.

Lee had a slight edge in shots on goal, but the Lady Vikings' two-headed keeper of Aubrey Tortora and Hope Wortham, each of whom played one half, combined for 10 saves, five by each player.

The key to slowing down each team's attack is no secret. To beat Lee County, you don't let Campbell University recruit Gillian Garrison run wild on you, and to beat Union Pines, keeping junior striker Taryn Pekala away from the ball is a very good idea. Both teams held their own defensively and each player only scored one time for their respective teams, although both had quite a few challenged shots. However, Union Pines won the battle by getting two goals from Grace Queen and Kylie DiMayo, and Queen was the woman of the match, assisting on the goals by Pekala and DiMayo. Lee got a goal from Brittany Guerrero Montiel, but needed one more and never got it.

The two teams are tied for the SAC lead, but Pinecrest (5-6, 3-2) remains in contention after losing close matches to both of the league's 3A powers, if it can beat both of them in the stretch run. No other team in the Sandhills has a winning conference record. While Pinecrest is almost assured of being the 4A automatic playoff berth winner, the Lady Jackets and Lady Vikings seem set for a fight for the 3A auto-berth and perhaps the league title and top playoff seed.

Lee County keeper Diana Ponce had five saves in the match.

The Lady Jackets host Hoke County tonight, while Union Pines hosted them in a late Monday match and hosts Carrboro in a non-conference match tonight.