McHenry’s hat trick leads Hawks into district finals

Viera to play Melbourne for district title for 10th straight year


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Viera High's Piper McHenry scored three goals for the Hawks Tuesday night in a 5-1 victory over Lincoln Park Academy in the Class 4A, District 6 semifinals.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

They might not have gotten off to the kind of start they wanted, but in the end, the Viera High girls soccer team made it clear they weren’t going to be denied a spot in the Class 4A, District 6 finals.

Rallying from an early 1-0 deficit, the Hawks got a hat trick from Piper McHenry and goals by Madelyn Rosario and Mai Jensen to defeat visiting Lincoln Park Academy 5-1 Tuesday night.

Viera’s semifinal victory puts the Hawks (15-1-2) into Thursday’s district championship game against – who else? – the Melbourne Bulldogs.

Melbourne (12-2-2) defeated Heritage 4-1 in Tuesday’s other district semifinal to set up Thursday’s title game, which is set for 7 p.m.

It will mark the 10th consecutive year the Hawks and Bulldogs have played each other for the district title.

While that kind of inevitability can make semifinals like the ones played Tuesday night seem like a foregone conclusion, the Hawks did have a few anxious moments early on.

After hitting the post with several shots early on, Viera suddenly found itself down 1-0 seven minutes into the game. And once it had the lead, Lincoln Park packed in its defense to try to keep the Hawks at bay.

“We knew what their threat was and we made a mistake,” Viera coach Cal Dixon said. “We gave the ball away in the midfield and allowed Tianna Hogan, who is a good player for them, to get in and score.

“Then they tried to defend. They tried to make it really hard for us. And they did, for a lot of the half, but once we broke them down and got the goal we definitely deserved, we kind of made the game easy.”

Dixon praised his team for not panicking when it got down early and for continuing to push through the Lincoln Park defense and create chances until McHenry was able to get the game-tying goal off an assist from Mya Norton with just under five minutes left in the first half.

“I think our shots in the beginning that we missed, if anything they encouraged us to play harder because we knew we could get them in,” McHenry said. “We just had to keep pushing and making opportunities to score.”

Viera then took the lead when Rosario scored with 27.9 seconds remaining before the break.

That goal not only gave the Hawks the lead, but it allowed them to relax and open up the game as Lincoln Park couldn’t afford to simply sit back and play defense.

“Once (Madelyn) scored, we were all like, ‘OK, we need to settle down. We need to play the game we know how to play,’” McHenry said. “We all encourage each other and lift each other up to play the best of our ability.”

The second half was all Viera as Taylor Collins put a perfect cross into the box that was headed in by McHenry. Jensen and McHenry then each scored an unassisted goal to make it 5-1.

Viera’s defense, meanwhile, clamped down on Lincoln Park with goalkeeper Cassie Bodi making seven saves on the night.

By reaching the district final, both Melbourne and Viera have qualified for the regional playoffs. It’s the 11th consecutive trip to the regionals for the Hawks.

It will also be a chance for Viera to avenge its only loss of the season, and for seniors Bodi, Kylie Pulliam, Hanna Vega, Amanda Zaroogian, Victoria Rosario, Abigail Rolling, Mya Norton and Carolina Santos to add the 2018-19 district title to their playing career resumes.

“It’s definitely a nerve-wracking game, but I think this time we’re ready,” McHanry said. “We know what to expect, and we know what we’re capable of.”