by Norma Stilwell
Special to The Pilot
The Pinecrest boys' soccer team scored early and often Wednesday night, notching a dominant 9-0 league victory over Purnell Swett in Southern Pines.
The game ended via the new North Carolina High School Athletic Association nine-goal mercy rule with 24 minutes remaining in the second half. With the 4-A Southeastern Conference win, Pinecrest improved to 7-0 in league play and 9-2-2 overall.
Sophomore midfielder "G" Peraza opened the scoring in the fourth minute of the game with a solid strike that found the right bottom corner. That opened up a barrage of Patriot goals in the next nine minutes, with two scores by Hayden Little and one each by seniors Jake Harbeck and Jeff Maser.
Junior defender Stephen Sawyer extended the lead with 2.8 seconds left in the first half following a defensive miscue off a rebounded Patriot shot, giving Pinecrest a comfortable 6-0 cushion after the initial 40 minutes.
Harbeck quickly opened up the final half with his second goal in close and, along with a quick score by Phil Lett, put the Patriots up 8-0. Mark Kropp's first goal of the season then ended the match.
"My first goal was pretty nice," said Harbeck following the game. "Taylor (Morton) played that ball to Luke (Lynch), who played it to me. It was beautiful ball play, and Luke played it right to my big toe."
In a balanced performance, seven players were credited with assists: Lynch (two), Maser, Harbeck, Peraza, Lett, Little and Michael Phelps.
Pinecrest goalkeepers Garrett Melia and Jordan Wilkins shared time protecting the net.
Patriot head coach Evan Saleeby complimented Rams' coach Alaric Strickland and how far the program from Pembroke has come.
"Purnell Swett has gotten a whole lot better over the last few years, and hopefully they can progress because they have a good, skilled coach (Strickland)," said Saleeby. "You just know they will bring a more challenging game at some point."
With the loss, Purnell Swett fell 0-12-0 for the season. As for his team, who is undefeated (7-0-0) in the conference, Saleeby was glad he was able to make liberal substitutions, giving non-starters good chunks of playing time. He also knows there is work to do.
"It's nice to have a game where everybody gets to play a lot, with different players scoring," he admitted, "but one thing the non-starters have to work on is their finishing.
"They create the same chances and get in the same positions as do some of the starters, then they can't finish. The hardest thing to do in soccer is get the goals in the net."
Frustration showing on his face, Strickland told his players to "keep playing" after the first half.
"Our team is going to take some time to develop, because they (Pinecrest) have the numbers and a feeder system to make a team like this," he said, gesturing across the field to the home side with his hand. "We have a recreation league.
"I know my team can play 80 minutes, but they weren't in it the first five goals. My goal for these games is to give teams a full match. Then we take it step by step. It's a process."
Referring to last year's game at Pinecrest, Strickland said, "We were done at halftime. This year we played a little longer.
"I want the games to continue to stretch out (in length). It will just take time."
Both head coaches praised Swett sophomore Joseph Velasquez, who did a credible job in goal against the stream of shots produced by the Patriots. Strickland referred to Velasquez as his "leading goal scorer," who was filling in for the regular keeper.
Pinecrest (9-2-2 overall) was scheduled to travel to Scotland County Thursday before hosting Richmond Senior on Monday night for the traditional Senior Night.
Harbeck and Little have mixed feelings as they look forward to their final regular-season home game.
"It will be kind of weird, after watching all of my friends have their last game, and knowing it's my turn now," Little said. The forward is the Patriot's leading scorer thus far with 10.
Harbeck knows he'll be a little sad. "I'm looking forward to it - and not looking forward to it, at the same," he said. "It's just tough to realize my senior year of soccer is ending."
The team will have more games ahead after the final game at Hoke next week. The conference championship will be held during the week of October 22, with a schedule to be determined.
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