'Cats Nip Pats in Soccer
Winners of two overtime soccer matches in the playoffs, the Pinecrest boys were just seconds away from familiar territory when the end came Saturday night.
The 48th goal of the season by Brannon Blanke of New Hanover, with 11.8 seconds left in regulation, saddled the Patriots with a 1-0 loss in the fourth-round contest held at the John Williams Athletic Complex.
Pinecrest finishes the season with a record of 20-3-3 while the Wildcats take a 22-2-1 record into Wednesday's regional final match against Green Hope.
"I just wish we could have made it into the overtime," Pinecrest coach Larry Martin said, "because I believe deeply that our boys would have prevailed. I feel so badly for the kids. They played their hearts out."
The Patriots had defeated West Johnston and Pine Forest in overtime, and eliminated Ashley on a late goal, to advance to the fourth round for the second time in the history of the soccer program.
In this one, Patriot defender Brent Foote got the assignment to track Blanke every step of the way.
"Coach just told me to stick on him with high pressure all the time," Foote said. "For the most part, I made him do what I wanted him to do. I kept him under control."
But Wildcat midfielder Ross Tomaselli provided danger throughout with his playmaking, corner kicks and direct kicks.
In the 63rd minute, Blanke got on the end of a Tomaselli corner kick and Patriot goalkeeper Matt Scott had to go airborne to flick it over the goal. The Patriots had their chances too. A few minutes earlier, a shot by John Kropp in a crowd in front of the Cat goal was deflected wide for a corner kick.
With the clock winding down in regulation, Tomaselli directed a ball toward Blanke near the top of the Patriot penalty area. It was loose on the ground for a moment before Blanke's soft shot rolled tantalizing inside the open right post for the game-winner.
"It was no one's fault," Foote said. "In a game like this that's really competitive, both teams played their hearts out the whole 80 minutes. Unfortunately it wasn't our time this year."
Thomas Goulden and Richard Palmer were physical forces in the middle of the field for the Patriots. The visitors took 17 shots to 11 for the home team. Scott was credited with eight saves.
The previous time the Patriots made it to the fourth round (2003), they were also ousted by New Hanover.
"They were everything we expected," Wildcat coach Al Pastore said. "It was an even game the whole way and we got lucky."
The Patriots were backed by another large and vocal crowd. For nine seniors it was the end of their Patriot soccer careers. But the future looks bright for the program.
"I have full faith that next year we'll be in the same situation and come out on top," Foote, one of the seniors said. "We've got a strong class coming up. I wish the best of luck to them."
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