Patriots Win Tough Battle Against Bucks
The greatly anticipated Wednesday matchup between the top-two teams in the Southeastern Conference didn’t disappoint in either intensity or emotion, but it did leave the Hoke County Bucks on the losing end of a hard-fought battle with the Pinecrest Patriots on Hoke’s home field following a 2-1 decision.
The Patriot coaches and players reminded each other before the game that a win was the only outcome they desired. They also knew that Hoke was athletic, but there is just “something” about playing on the Bucks’ home field that makes it difficult to win there.
And while it was the 16 Patriot seniors who wanted badly to win in Raeford for the first time in several years, it was a total team effort, led by junior Hayden Little’s two goals and a picture-perfect assist by sophomore Rene Cruz that gave coach Todd Abbey his first boys’ team win at Hoke.
Senior midfielder Richard Palmer summed it up best for the Patriots, who are now 9-2-0 overall and still undefeated in five conference matches.
“It feels great to beat them at their place for the first time in three years,” Palmer said. “The coach told us at halftime to move the ball around, get shots off and the goals would come. And they did.”
Even though the plan was to “come out strong and put the game away early,” according to Palmer, the first half yielded no goals for either squad, despite numerous opportunities for each team and some great defensive stops.
And this difficult type of game was what Cruz was anticipating.
“We practiced hard for this game and it was very physical,” he said. “I was sort of frustrated after the first half, but we expected them to be good. It was a tough game, but we had a lot of great chances.”
Finishing those chances in the second half fell at the feet of Little, who now has goals in eight of the last nine Patriot victories.
“We outran them, but we were struggling to finish,” Little observed. “In the second half, Dane (Nelsen), Taylor (Morton) and I started moving the ball more and making different runs to create more opportunities and just kept at it. We were finally able to finish.
“We just wanted to win for the seniors, but after that first half, we knew we just had to pick up the pace.”
It wasn’t until the 54th minute of the game that the Patriots put up the much-needed first score on a seamless lead pass from Cruz to Little down the middle.
“Rene slotted that ball perfectly,” Little said. “He’s been playing really well, finding the forwards with his passes.”
Four minutes later, with the Patriots holding a slim 1-0 lead, Nelsen passed the ball to Little in traffic about 15 yards in front of the box. The shot found the back left corner of the net for the second score.
The Bucks were not without chances but couldn’t capitalize on several kicks following Pinecrest infractions.
Goalie Mitchell Dotson went the distance in the game and, along with the defenders, received plenty of action in the final anxious minutes of the game, making several nice stops while denying the home team a comfortable opportunity.
The lone Hoke score came on a penalty kick with three minutes left in the match; an earlier Buck goal was nullified after an indirect kick was played as a direct kick. Hoke’s record now stands at 9-5-1 overall and 3-1-1 in the conference.
“I’m pretty relieved with this win,” Dotson said. “Even though Hoke lost two really good players last year (to graduation), they still have a lot of talent. It was pretty hectic at times, but I managed to stay pretty calm. All of us just wanted to win.”
Pinecrest junior varsity coach Evan Saleeby also had a lot riding on his game, a 5-1 victory that gave the team a perfect 8-0 record with six games remaining. This was his first trip back to Hoke after teaching and coaching the jayvees there in the past few years.
“Honestly, it was a bit weird being on the ‘other’ side, but I enjoyed it,” said the first-year Patriot coach.”I’m enjoying my Pinecrest coaching experience, and I’m really glad both of our teams got the wins tonight.”
Hunter Hawes led the jayvees with two goals, and Gerardo Peraza, Michael Phelps and Chase Nelsen rounded out the scoring.
Monday night’s upcoming home game is with Fayetteville Academy, who currently is the No. 1 ranked 2-A private school in the state with a record of 13-1-0. Game time is 7 p.m. at the John Williams Athletic Complex.
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