Pack’s hat trick leads Oak Mountain to quarterfinals

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – The aspect that makes this year’s Oak Mountain girls soccer team so dangerous is that it’s not just one of their incredible athletes that can beat you but an array of different players that can beat you on any given night and that was in full effect on Tuesday, May 2, in the first round of the 7A playoffs as the Eagles played host to Hoover the Hoover Bucs.

The dynamic combination of Hailey Whitaker, Nicole Payne and Julia Pack on the offensive side of the ball is lethal to any team squaring off against Oak Mountain as they tend to score or assist on every goal the team puts on the board. Pack and Whitaker, both juniors this year, have already verbally committed to joining Auburn University’s women’s soccer team to show their level of skill.

While Whitaker has had her share of hat tricks and even a five goal game a few weeks back, it was Pack’s turn to show out in the first round of the playoffs as a first half hat trick by the talented athlete led Oak Mountain to a 5-2 win over the Bucs.

Coming into the game, No. 6 Hoover had lost three of its last four games, while the Eagles had gone 10-0-1 over their last 11 and sat at No. 2 in the rankings. The Bucs had lost nine games throughout the regular season, while Oak Mountain proved itself as one of the best teams with only two regular-season losses.

This clearly showed the Eagles had the advantage as well as a 4-1 win over Hoover to open the 2017 season to build their confidence level even more.

It was obvious that confidence level was through the roof and that Oak Mountain came out with one goal in mind, aggressive offensive play. It payed off early on as Pack and Whitaker put three goals on the board in the first 7:26 of play.

Pack picked up the first of her three goals with ease in the first 2:05 of the game thanks to a free kick. Just over three minutes later, Pack was right back at it firing her second goal of the game into the back of the game with 34:08 left in the first half.

Almost like a pack of wolves, once one player strikes, there sits two or three more sitting waiting to pounce on this Oak Mountain team, insert Whitaker. Her offensive skills wowed the crowd 1:34 after Pack’s second goal of the game as she pulled a beautiful move to get the Eagles third goal in the back of the net to give them a 3-0 lead.

The game got a bit quiet for a while after this before Hoover’s Sarah Harrell finally gave the Bucs a shimmer of hope when she put their first goal home with 13:03 left in the half to cut the lead to 3-1.

This woke Pack back up as she put home her hat-trick goal less than three minutes after Harrell’s first goal. Her goal with 10:28 left gave the Eagles a 4-1 advantage, which would be hard for them to lose.

Hoover tried their best to grab some momentum, however, heading into the half. With just over two minutes left in the half a corner kick from the Bucs found its way inside the goalie box before an attempt at a head out by an Oak Mountain defender led to an own goal to give Hoover its second goal of the game.

Coming out of the half with a 4-2 lead, senior leader Alison Nix put the Eagles fifth goal on the board after a soft shot trickled smoothly across the ground and into the right side of the net to give Oak Mountain a 5-2 lead, which they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way thanks to spectacular defense.

With the win, the Eagles will move on to the quarterfinals where they will face Bob Jones with a trip to Huntsville and the Final 4 on the line. That game will take place Saturday, May 6 at 5 p.m.