East, 19-2 had defeated the field’s No. 1 seed, West Forsyth, on Friday to advance to the title game at Greensboro Day School, and on Saturday East beat No. 6 Winston-Salem R.J. Reynolds 1-0.
Anyone needing the screenplay with a happy ending to a bittersweet story sure to cause a tear or two, needs only to check out East Chapel Hill's latest N.C. Field Hockey Association state championship.
Playing on neutral field at Greensboro Day School, East Chapel Hill defeated Winston-Salem's R.J. Reynolds 1-0 last Saturday for the Wildcats' fourth consecutive title in high school field hockey.
Despite East dominating play throughout the match, the game was scoreless until the 'Cats got a game-winning goal in the final minute from senior Margo Richardson, whose beloved father Wayne Richardson had died barely 72 hours before after a long, debilitating illness.
Margo was first swarmed at the goal by her teammates, and then moments later on the field by her family that had traveled from Chapel Hill to see the final -- mother Lisa Richardson and siblings Ellie and Travin.
"It took me a minute to realize what had happened," Margo Richardson said.
"It was very emotional. We had dedicated the game to my dad. We were playing to win a state championship, but we were also playing for my dad. That made it even more special."
It was East Chapel Hill's eight N.C. high school championship in field hockey in 11 years of competition, the Wildcats' third straight with 2002 grad Susan Taylor as head coach. Taylor also teaches math at ECH.
R.J. Reynolds, the tournament's No. 6 seed, finished 16-7.
Seeded No. 4 despite a 15-2 regular-season record, East reached the championship game after defeating top-seed West Forsyth 2-1 in Friday's semifinals at Greensboro Day School. Julie Canon got East on the board with a first-half goal off an assist from Sydney Holman, and Holman added what proved to be the game-winning goal off a penalty corner 9 minutes after halftime. West Forsyth scored late, with a goal by Rachel Black with about 6 minutes left to play.
Friday's win was East's third this year against West Forsyth (12-9).
Saturday, East (19-2) completely shut down RJR's offense, giving Wildcat goalies Katie Watts and Simone Leiro almost nothing to do but to cheer on their teammates. East held the Demons to zero shots and zero penalty corners.
East got off seven shots on-goal, six of them saved by RJR goalie Nancy Hunter-Barnhill.
The Wildcats had one lone corner and two shots on-goal in the first half, but they got more aggressive in the second half, constantly getting into RJR's defensive third and earning 12 corners.
Hunter-Barnhill deflected four Wildcat shots, but then got caught out of position in the closing minutes. First-year player Marissa Creatore got loose on the right side and drew Hunter-Barnhill out of the cage, then flicked a pass back-door to Richardson at the goal mouth, who quickly knocked in the game-winner.
"My dad said he would be watching the game, and he had the best seat in the house. He was watching from heaven," Richardson said.
"Getting that goal felt really special."