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Hickory boys team photo state championship
The Hickory boys win the state 3A soccer championship.
screenshot from video stream of NFHS Network.

Hickory Wins State 3A Boys Soccer State Championship

A scoreless first half gave way to a fiery second half that saw the Hickory Red Tornadoes claim a 2-1 victory over Jacksonville and the 3A Men’s Soccer State Championship. Freshman center back Braeden McCourt cleared a would-be Jacksonville go-ahead goal off the Tornado line before netting a go-ahead goal of his own on the way to winning the 3A Championship’s Most Valuable Player Award.

McCourt’s first heroics came with the score knotted at zero when Jacksonville forward, Jack Leary came screaming through the Tornado defense and worked his way around Hickory goalkeeper Conner Mejia. Leary flicked a ball towards an open net, but McCourt managed to clear it just before it crossed the line, knocking it out for a corner kick in the 50th minute. Just eight minutes later, Hickory had a free kick opportunity that pinballed in the box and fell to McCourt just to the left of the Cardinals’ goal. McCourt made no mistake pounding it home to lift Hickory to the 1-0 lead.

Braeden McCourt was named the most valuable player of the 3A boys state soccer championship.
photo courtesy of North Carolina High School Athletic Association

Just three minutes later, Hickory added another goal, what turned out to be the game-winner, off a free kick at the left edge of the penalty area. Josue Leal curled a right-footed boot around the Cardinal wall, two-hopping the right side netting to put the Tornadoes in front 2-0 with 20 minutes to play.

Jacksonville certainly did not back down after giving up the goal. The Cardinals drew within a goal as Tyler Gregory poked a loose ball in the box home off a deflection in the six-yard box.

The goal in the 74th minute gave Jacksonville extra life, and the Cardinals poured on the pressure. Earning a free kick at the edge of the penalty area from straightaway. Leary curled a shot off the right post, which deflected off Mathias Navar and had to be saved by Mejia to maintain a 2-1 lead.

Jacksonville finished the season 18-8-2. The Cardinals were the Champions of the Big Carolina 3A/4A with a record of 10-1 in conference play. The Cardinals won the program’s sixth Eastern Regional Championship, appearing in the State Championship for the first time since 2013.

Hickory wrapped up the year 22-2-3, champions of the Western Foothills 3A with a record of 12-1-1 in league play. Hickory won the program’s second state championship, their first since 2000, appearing in the State Championship for the sixth time in program history and second straight year.

The NCHSAA is committed to promoting good sportsmanship and has partnered with the NC Farm Bureau to recognize two athletes from each State Championship event with NC Farm Bureau Sportsmanship Awards. The Sportsmanship Award winners for the 2022 3A Men’s Soccer State Championship Match were Jack Leary from Jacksonville and Alex Annas from Hickory.