SILER CITY — The rain may have cleared up just in time for Jordan-Matthews’ playoff game on Monday evening, but the Jets continued pouring it on.
The No. 4 Jets (13-3-3) scored eight goals in the first half against the No. 29 James Kenan Tigers (8-7-2), making room for a mercy-rule, walk-off goal early in the second half to secure the 9-0 win in the opening round of the NCHSAA 2A women’s soccer state playoffs.
Jordan-Matthews is awaiting its second-round opponent after the first-round game between No. 13 Raleigh Charter and No. 20 Washington was rained out on Monday, pushing the game to Tuesday evening (after the News + Record’s press time). The Jets will play at home for at least the first three rounds, barring an upset loss.
From the jump, it was clear that Jordan-Matthews was, as Jets Head Coach Josh Harris put it before the game, “weirdly locked in.”
“It was just a little different vibe, it was a different kind of focus, but it wasn’t a tense focus, it was loose,” Harris said after the win. “They were ready to go. And they had good energy all day.”
Freshman striker Jessica Parroquin Vallejo undoubtedly brought the energy, scoring a hat trick (plus another) in the opening half — draining four of the Jets’ first six goals — to cap off an exceptional performance in her first-ever playoff game.
She was the main contributor to a well-oiled J-M offense that saw five different players make floats for the scoring parade.
Despite the field’s slick conditions — with deep puddles acting as remnants of the mid-afternoon storms stashed around the perimeter of J-M’s raised pitch — the Jets never faltered and rarely, if ever, slipped up.
“We haven’t played on a wet field this whole season,” said Guadalupe Perez, the Jets’ assistant coach. “Usually you get one or two games where it’s just rained or something, but it didn’t happen this season … so the girls had to warm up to the weather effects.”
“We controlled the game most of the time,” Harris added. “If you control, then you can kind of anticipate what movements you need rather than react, that’s when you slip is when it’s a last-second reaction instead of a planned set.”
The Jets tested the Tigers’ defense early and often, continuously sending shots in the direction of the net as they dominated time of possession and aimed to wear down James Kenan’s backline.
They spent the first 7 minutes on the Tigers’ end of the pitch to open the game, firing off shots and forcing their goalkeeper to make saves. And even when it appeared that the Tigers might finally send the ball across midfield — and create any sort of offense — the Jets would track down the pass and force it right back in the other direction.
For James Kenan, it was exhausting.
For Jordan-Matthews, it was only a matter of time.
The scoreless tie was broken in an anticlimactic fashion for the Jets, however, with Parroquin Vallejo, bounding down the right side of the pitch toward the penalty area, attempting a pass to junior Maricarmen Landa, who stood just in front of the Tigers’ goalkeeper.
But instead of the pass making its way to Landa, it smacked against the shoulder of a James Kenan defender and ricocheted into the left corner of the net, past a diving goalkeeper to give J-M a 1-0 lead in the 9th minute.
That goal opened the flood gates for the Jets — a trend in many of their games this season — giving way to two additional goals in as many minutes.
In the 10th minute, Parroquin Vallejo struck again as she blocked a pass from Tigers sophomore Railei Mouton with her body, chased it down and rocketed it from the right side of the net, scoring her second goal of the game for a 2-0 Jets lead.
Then, around a minute later, Parroquin Vallejo secured her hat trick on a quick shot off of a near-perfect crossing pass from Landa, giving J-M a 3-0 advantage just 11 minutes into the game.
The almost immediate three-goal swing — made possible by a mixture of Parroquin Vallejo’s quickness and scoring finesse, Landa’s soccer savviness and nearly the entire team’s desire to shut down any ounce of offense from the Tigers — is evidence that speed kills as the Tigers were consistently burned by the Jets’ swift strikers.
“It’s a lot of pressure on teams because they’re very cognizant of (our speed up front) and they know about it, so they tend to focus on it,” Harris said. “It doesn’t let them push it too much on us since they have to respect that because if they don’t, they’re going to get burnt.”
The onslaught continued for J-M throughout the first half, with the Jets eventually tacking on four more goals from a mixture of freshman Citlaly Aguillon (18th minute), sophomore Janeyra Guerrero Jaimes (24th minute), Parroquin Vallejo (27th minute) and Landa (28th minute).
Then, in the 39th minute, Jets sophomore Iris Sibrian Zetino makes a passionate push toward the goal, enduring a couple of bumps along the way, as she forced her way into the penalty area and slot a slow-rolling shot into the bottom-left portion of the net to give her team an 8-0 lead heading into the break, just one away from the nine-goal mercy rule.
While the Jets’ offense was the clear-cut star of the game, they likely don’t make it to nine goals in 46 minutes without the lights-out play from the team’s midfielders and backline defenders, who rarely let anything get past them all night long.
Harris and Perez praised both Aguillon and junior Maggie Thornton in particular for their ability to lock things down against the Tigers.
“Citlaly, our center-mid, she went for every single ball. She didn’t stop, she was taking it from them, she had no fear,” Perez said. “She was running around and you saw her everywhere.”
“Her and Maggie Thornton,” Harris said. “Maggie’s very consistent, so it’s hard to say when she stands out, but there were multiple times when she just completely controlled it and went and flipped the field.”
Just six minutes into the second half, Sibrian Zetino banged in the walk-off goal off of a corner kick to propel her team into the second round, foregoing the final 34 minutes of game time as the mercy rule kicked in.
While it was clear they were having fun after the blowout win, the Jets’ coaches were all business, spending little time celebrating the victory and more time looking ahead to their next foe.
For a team that started 0-2-2, won 12 of the regular season’s final 14 games, went undefeated (10-0) in the newly formed Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference and earned the 2A East’s No. 4 seed, a first-round playoff win is nice, but expected.
The Jets have bigger aspirations.
“Our process is about us. When we play well and we do what we do, it goes really well and we’re really tough to beat,” Harris said. “So if we do that, then it doesn’t really matter who’s on the other sideline. … We’ve just got to stick to the process.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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