Emily Nelson asserted herself at the right time.
Nelson, a Charlotte Catholic sophomore midfielder, scored a hat trick in the Cougars 3-1 win against Hopewell in the first round of the N.C. 4A soccer playoffs Wednesday at Keffer Stadium.
She was the best player in open space, beating the defense down field to convert scoring opportunities into goals for Catholic, which improved to 13-4-1 despite missing three injured starters.
We got beat up during the course of the year, Cougars coach Gary Hoilett said. About midway through the season she started struggling a little with injuries here and there. As shes gotten healthier again, you see her game coming back, and she was getting inside the box to finish off for us tonight.
Said Nelson: It was a lot easier with my team. It took a little bit of time to get in the rhythm of playing.
Nelson and Lindsey Tulley peppered Hopewells defense with shots, but Nelson found ways to close, starting with a blast in the 15th minute off an Alina Limpert pass, followed by a breakaway in the 19th minute. The finale was a volley in the 58th minute that provided more than sufficient cushion for Catholic.
I cannot remember being in a game where one player (Tulley) hit the crossbar or the post five times, Hoilett said. It happens. Its just the beauty of the game, but Emily showed up big for us tonight.
Hopewell (11-8-2) climbed to within 2-1 on Kelly Flanders penalty kick in the 34th minute and goalkeeper Shelby Thompson, battling a stress fracture in her foot, kept the Titans in contention with a series of spectacular saves.
Shes the reason weve been so successful this year, coming up with incredible saves, Hopewell coach Robb Bolar said. Her desire, her effort, her heart, she wears it out there.
But Catholic was too quick, especially with the ball at Nelsons feet in the open field.
It wasnt easy, but the through balls from everybody and the technical work was just better, she said. We just played a pretty fast pace, so that helps a lot.
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