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Hough’s defense, experience keys to regional win

Langston Wertz Jr.
Langston Wertz Jr. writes about videogames, gadgets, golf and sports for The Charlotte Observer and Charlotte.com.

Hough High’s girls soccer team is going back to the state championship, thanks to an overtime goal from Emmily Cowie in Tuesday’s 1-0 win against Myers Park.

But the Huskies don’t even get to overtime without some outstanding defensive play from senior defender Brianna Cuevas and senior midfielder Courtney Crump.

Throughout Tuesday’s game at Myers Park, Cuevas and Crump constantly slowed Myers Park’s offensive pushes with perfectly calm defensive plays when even experienced players may have panicked.

Time and again, Cuevas took angles to outrun Myers Park’s speedy and dangerous sophomore forward Blair Anderes, who seemed to be threatening to score about every three minutes. Crump, too, wouldn’t rush herself when faced with a Mustangs offensive, calmly winning a ball and knocking it away or simply controlling possession, controlling her dribble – and her nerves.

It was an impressive display of defense, and it was needed, along with yeoman’s work in goal by junior Marnie Merritt, on a night when Myers Park seemed intent on delivering a knockout blow and reaching its first state championship game.

“(Cuevas and Crump are) big,” Hough coach David Smith said. “They’re both seniors, and they both made big plays when they needed to. They’re leaders on the field and they were keeping everybody else together. It’s easy to keep it together when you see that on the field.”

It also helped Cuevas and Crump and all the Huskies that they’d been here before. Tuesday, Hough played in its third straight N.C. 4A Western Regional game. Hough is three years old.

The Huskies have played in 16 playoff games. Smith said they’re playoff tough. And he’s right.

So when Myers Park came out trying to throw haymakers – and very nearly connecting – Hough kept its poise and kept the game scoreless. And when Hough finally got its goal, the Huskies packed in that tough defense and ran the clock out.

“They were attacking the goal, and we got so lucky,” Cowie said. “That really opened our eyes that we have to focus and get this. We want it and they wanted it, but we had to be the team on top.”

Cuevas, who bears more than a passing resemblance to college basketball star and WNBA lottery pick Skylar Diggins, said that renewed focus was the difference.

“When they put the pressure on us, we had to learn to step up for the 50-50 ball,” she said. “They came out really aggressive, and we had to match that. With Marnie, our goal keeper motivating us, we came out strong. But it was nerve-racking. It felt like the state championship game all over again even though this was the regional championship. For me and the other seniors, this is our last year and this is where we’ve really got to do it again.”

Cuevas and the Huskies, thanks to their defense, are now just one win away.

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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