Pinecrest Booters Win SEC Tournament
The Pinecrest boys’ soccer team has dominated conference play for more than a decade. Saturday night, the Patriots met a Hoke County squad determined to take its own recent success to a new level.
An early goal by Dane Nelsen, and a late one by Gray Anderson, helped the home side defeat the ambitious Bucks 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship match.
The Patriots (15-5-2) were scheduled to entertain Garner (6-9-3), the fifth seed from the Greater Neuse River Conference, on Tuesday in a first round 4A state playoff match.
Hoke (17-5-2) ended Pinecrest’s 67-match conference winning streak last year and played them to a 1-1 tie about 10 days ago. They played at a pace in the early going the Patriots had to go hard to match.
“We’ve been building for about seven years,” Hoke coach Derek Butler said. “We’ve finally gotten to where we can challenge them, but they’re still the class of the league.”
Nelsen’s line drive corner kick in the sixth minute deflected off a Buck defender into the goal for a 1-0 Patriot lead. Led by 2009 conference player of the year, Walther Mejia-Ruiz, and Joe Latham, the Bucks kept the issue in doubt until late in the match.
“They’re a well-rounded team and I knew I’d have to play my heart out to have a chance at winning,” Latham, who plays club soccer with some of the Patriot players, said.
About 15 minutes into the second half, the Patriots nearly got some insurance off a brilliant individual effort by Richard Palmer. The junior midfielder carried the ball for about 40 yards before cutting across the right end line and slipping it tantalizingly across the goalmouth.
“I made a big run and there were a few guys there,” he said. “I just didn’t put it in the right spot.”
With about 15 minutes remaining, Patriot fans could only hold their breath as a rocket off the foot of Mejia-Ruiz from about 25 yards away on the right flew wide of the far post.
Later, the pressure the Patriots were putting on the Buck goal finally paid off. The visitors were in the home end seeking the equalizer with just over two minutes left in the match when a pass from Nelsen triggered a transition attack. Hayden Little received the pass from Nelsen and made a slick flick to Anderson for the left-footed finish that made it 2-0.
“That definitely gave us more confidence in the last minutes and helped us seal it,” Palmer said.
Palmer has enjoyed the rivalry that has developed between the two teams over the past two years.
“Between Joe and Walther, and they’ve got some other good players, they give us a run for our money,” he said. “Thankfully, we won this year when it mattered.”
Mitchell Dotson was in the goal for the Patriots’ 10th shutout win of the season. The goal by Anderson was his team-high 19th and Nelsen’s was his 18th. Kevin Grasso is third on the team with a dozen. Grasso and Nelsen are the assist leaders with 10 each. Anderson and Chris Sanders have each been credited with nine assists.
The Patriots hope the Garner match will begin a journey like last year’s when they made it as far as the state semifinals.
“We want to go further than we did last year,” Palmer said. “We’ve got a good team and a great chance to do it. We definitely need to take it one game at a time.”
Contact Charlie Bergmann at email@example.com.
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