Vikes Back on Winning Track
Adam Howard had a hat trick to help lead the Union Pines boys’ soccer team to a 3-1 league victory Monday in Lillington over the Western Harnett Eagles.
“From the start of warmups tonight I felt good,” Howard said, “and I knew I was going to be able to do what I had to do to help us get a win. I hit the ball well in this one. Each time I had a chance, I didn’t rush it and I didn’t delay it. I was just on time today and I am thankful for it.”
The first of Howard’s three tallies came in the 39th minute of the 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference contest, tying the tilt at 1-1.
Viking senior fullback Robert MacPherson was credited with an assist on the goal. From the stopper position MacPherson made a steal to gain possession of the ball near the middle of the circle above the penalty box on the Union Pines side of the field.
He then managed to dribble out near midfield before unleashing a long accurate pass that split the defense up to Howard near the 20-yard marker. Upon receiving the ball, Howard took it directly into the Eagle box before putting it away for the neutralizer.
Prior to that point in the match, Western Harnett had outshot the visiting Vikings by a margin of nine to five, but the only try the home team placed on-goal was a score in the 16th minute by Luis Estrada on an assist from David Valentine.
In the opening half, Western Harnett held a decided edge in time of possession as a majority of the action took place in the midfield up to the Viking goal. Union Pines head coach Mike Mibb felt that his team was not sharp enough in the inner portion of its midfield line in the opening period.
“The guys in the central midfield just did not do the job in the first half,” said Mibb. “Western had too many opportunities and too many unmarked men. But in the second half they adjusted well. We made a few positional changes and played much better.
“At halftime I told our team that in the central midfield they needed to mark people when we did not have possession. I also told them we weren’t passing well and that our wingers were waiting for the pass to start their runs instead of making runs in anticipation of passes.”
Less than three minutes into the second half, Howard struck for a second goal. This time the senior forward found the back of the net on a sharp send from junior midfielder Riley O’Neil.
Howard capped the scoring for the night in the 61st minute when he received a perfectly placed through ball at the 19-yard line, from junior center-mid Matthew Cooper, before beating the Eagle keeper on a breakaway chance.
Although Union Pines did mark up better across the board in the second half, the squad still fell into the role of a counter-attacking team. Western Harnett applied steady pressure by possessing the ball with authority throughout the final 40 minutes.
The Eagles sent six of their nine second-half shots on goal. One of those tries hit the cross bar and senior goalkeeper P.J. Schmittdiel made four key saves. The Viking defense was also credited with two saves in the stanza as fullbacks Michael Eubanks and Jose Torres each made header-stops.
With the win Union Pines improved to 3-8 overall on the season and snapped a two-game league skid to move to 3-2 in CFVC play. Western Harnett’s record went to 1-3 in league competition and 2-7 overall with the loss.
After the match Howard spoke about the significance of the Viking victory.
“It seems like this game (against Western) is always a determining factor in terms of if we make the playoffs or not,” he said. “Gray’s Creek and Southern Lee are always matches where we go in happy with a win but not necessarily let down if we don’t. Having already dropped matches to both those squads once this season, it sort of panned out where we had to win this game, and we did.”
The CFVC sends four teams to the 3-A NCHSAA state playoffs. Union Pines is currently third in the league standings. Southern Lee (7-2-2 4-0 CFVC), which bested the Vikes by a 2-0 margin last week in Cameron, sits tied atop the conference standings with Gray’s Creek (6-4-1, 4-0).
Overhills (2-7, 1-3) and Western Harnett entered Wednesday tied for the fourth and final postseason spot.
The Vikings are back in action tonight at 6 p.m. for a cross-county clash against the 1-A North Moore Mustangs (5-3-1) in Robbins.
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