Patriots Tie No. 7 East Chapel Hill in Soccer
With two weeks of steady improvement behind them, the Pinecrest boys’ soccer team played seven-ranked East Chapel Hill to a hard-fought 0-0 tie on Thursday night at the John Williams Athletic Field. The first game between the two was suspended on Sept. 6 due to lightning.
When asked what the difference was since the first game with the Wildcats, Patriot coach Evan Saleeby was quick with his one-word answer: confidence.
“We hadn’t won a game when we played them before and had just come off of the disappointing game to Sanderson (6-0 loss). We were still a young team,” he explained. “Winning four games in a row like we have does nothing but build confidence and builds cohesiveness with the boys playing together.”
After observing the high press defense that East employed in the first game, Saleeby’s strategy for his team was to weather that 10-15 minutes of “pressure,” wait for the opposition to tire, find the gaps and start attacking.
“It was a really good game, very high intensity, with a good result,” said a hoarse Saleeby, who coached loudly from the sidelines. “I told them that as the first half progressed, they were the better team. They simply had to keep possession of the ball and play composed.”
Seniors Taylor Morton and Hayden Little spoke of missed chances but were proud of the way their team responded.
Morton said: “In the earlier game, we came out a bit too ‘hyped up,’ but this time we were more calm with the ball, and we knew what we were up against. We knew they had a strong left side, but we had a little bit of an upper-hand tonight because we had seen that from them before.
“Evan told us to ‘weather the storm,’ so once they started to get tired, we tried to attack and counter more. I felt like we played well, but every time we got in the attacking third of the field, we did something wrong as a team that kept us from scoring.”
Little agreed that the Patriots’ performance was much better than two weeks ago, but was frustrated at their missed chances to score.
“We had a couple of good chances to score. I should have finished one that was kind of a hard bounce and their goal keeper made a pretty good save, and I also had a free kick that went wide,” he said, shaking his head. “And one hit the cross bar and bounced high. We just need to work on through balls and easy tap-ins.”
East’s coach Austin Collins saw a lot of difference in the two matches and gave both defenses a shout out.
“Yeah, Pinecrest played with a lot more intensity and a lot more pressure on the ball,” Collins said, “so it was tough for us to connect passes. I thought both defenses played really well, as did each keeper.”
Citing their game the previous night and his team being a little tired, he added: “Sometimes defenses can shine in a moment like this, where offensive guys are really tired. They’re sometimes doing just enough to save the goals which is what they did a bunch.”
His team is now 6-1-2 overall.
With the Pinecrest season at its midpoint, Saleeby is fine-tuning his game plan and evaluating his players for the home stretch of conference play. He was happy with the way his players responded to the high press and how they kept the ball.
“Taylor (Morton) had an excellent game playing two different center-mid roles,” he said, “and with his engine, he can run all day.”
He praised Little, Jake Harbeck and Josh Rhea.
“Hayden did a good job holding the ball up, waiting for the plays to develop around him,” the coach said. “Jake Harbeck had a great game in a position that he doesn’t usually play, and Josh Rhea gave us fresh legs when he came in in defensive relief and had an excellent game.”
Garrett Melia recorded another shut out in goal for Pinecrest.
The junior varsity team also tied East Chapel Hill, 1-1.
Sam Kruyer was credited with the Pinecrest goal.
In a game on Wednesday night, the Patriots traveled to Purnell Swett for a conference tilt, which ended in a Pinecrest victory in the first half, with the new “mercy rule” in effect (nine-goal lead after completing the first half). Juniors Michael Phelps and Spencer Eltschlager had two goals each in the 9-0 win. Rounding out the scoring with goals were Nick Guyon, “G” Peraza, Mike Tzavlas, Stephen Sawyer and Clay Richter.
With the bulk of conference play ahead of them, Pinecrest (5-1-2 overall, 3-0-0 conference) will travel to Richmond Senior on Monday night and host Hoke County on Tuesday night, which has also been designated as “Youth Soccer Night” for the local teams. Game time Tuesday is 7 p.m.
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