It’s rare enough for two different East Carolina squads to face N.C. State within the space of eight days, but victories in both contests would have been a special kind of Pirate magic. Unfortunately, an echo of the ECU volleyball team’s 3-2 win over the Wolfpack last week was not to be heard when the soccer team hosted State at Johnson Stadium on Wednesday night.
Fueled by three Wolfpack goals in the first fifteen minutes, the visitors maintained the upper hand throughout the game, claiming a 5-2 victory that overshadowed ECU’s tenacity and the enthusiasm of a home crowd that was the fifth largest in the history of the facility.
“They came out a lot stronger than us,” said goalkeeper Melanie Stiles. “We were kind of timid in the first few minutes in the game, and that showed with the three goals that we got scored on. We can’t really go into games thinking it’s over before it starts.”
Despite a first-half goal from senior forward Jenna Dages that energized the fans, the Pirates weren’t able to keep possession of the ball long enough to counter State’s explosive, immediate offensive attack.
NCSU senior midfielder Ricci Walking struck first at 4:22, followed by a high goal by senior midfielder Paige Griffiths two-and-a-half minutes later and a third that found the net by senior midfielder Tziarra King at 15:31.
After that barrage, ECU found some rhythm on offense, taking a shot and a corner kick before a Wolfpack foul gave Dages a penalty kick. Her attempt was stopped by goalkeeper Jessica Berlin, but Dages volleyed back the deflection into the goal to make the score 3-1 and avoid the shutout.
But even as the diverse crowd, a mix of youth soccer players of every size and their parents and ECU students, started to claim a bit of hope, State freshman forward Leyah Hall-Robinson overcame the Pirate defense three minutes later for a 4-1 lead that the Wolfpack carried into halftime.
“I think the game was kind of a combination of, they’re better than us, and, we didn’t execute our game plan,” said head coach Jason Hamilton. “We came out and just gave them way too much respect, and we kind of got buried in our half of the field, and we played too deep, and that gave them some easy opportunities.”
The early minutes of the second half were much quieter than the opening frame, but then King, the Wolfpack’s leading scorer with seven goals on the season, struck again with a goal over Melanie Stiles’ head for a 5-1 Pirate deficit ten minutes into the half.
ECU responded again with 27 minutes left on a Madie Knaggs goal, but not enough minutes or fresh legs remained for a dramatic comeback.
Hamilton said he was pleased with the effort in the second half — the Pirates surpassed the Wolfpack in both shots and corner kicks — but it wasn’t enough.
“I think we just need to come out with a better game plan for ourselves,” Stiles said. “We just have to be ready for a lot of shots. We blocked a lot of shots, but we also gave them a lot of opportunity, which unfortunately cost us.
“I think this was a bad loss for us, but we just have to take everything we did in this game, good and bad, and learn from it, and come out better against those better teams in conference,” Stiles added, alluding to ECU’s upcoming American Athletic Conference slate. “Because if we play the way we played those first twenty minutes, it’s not going to be a good season for us.”
The loss dropped the Pirates to 3-4-1 with one non-conference game Sunday at UNC-Greensboro before commencing AAC play. Their next home game is October 10, when they’ll host Tulsa after road games at Connecticut and Temple. NCSU, now 5-3-0, plays its first Atlantic Coast Conference game at Duke on Sunday.
“We really need to focus on the little things and come into every game knowing what we need to do individually and as a team, and just make sure we come out every single game wanting to win,” Dages said. “I think we have it, but we have to find it every single game.”