The Pinecrest men's soccer team won the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship

The Pinecrest men's soccer team won the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship Saturday night at Hoke County on penalty kicks.

After splitting the regular-season series and sharing the conference title, the Pinecrest and Hoke County boys’ soccer teams had a score to settle Saturday night in the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship game in Raeford.

It would take extra time, as has been the case in three of their last five meetings.

Tied 2-2 after 80 minutes of regulation and two five-minute overtimes, the outcome once again had to be decided by penalty kicks, just as it did when the two teams faced each other Oct. 23 at Pinecrest.

Pinecrest prevailed 4-2 on goals by Nick Vences, Justin Phillips, Gray Smith and Binka Woody. Goalkeeper Hunter Johnson made two big saves.

After the second championship-clinching save, Johnson’s teammates engulfed him and some fans rushed the field in celebration before the trophy presentation.

First-year head coach Jeremy Blake said the win provides some good momentum as Pinecrest heads into the state 4-A playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the West Region, getting a first-round bye in the process.

“It energized us,” Blake said of winning the tournament championship. “It’s hard to play a team a third time. I think we moved the ball better.”

And it is possible Pinecrest could face the Bucks for a fourth time, with much higher stakes this time.

Pinecrest will host the winner of the game between 11th seeded Hoke and No. 22 seeded East Mecklenburg in a second-round game at 6 p.m. Saturday at John Williams Stadium.

Blake said he doesn’t relish the idea of having to play the Bucks again, but his team will be ready.

“You know what you are getting,” he said. “And we don’t have to travel.”

The Patriots and Bucks have split the regular-season series the last two years.

In the first meeting this season on the road, the Bucks prevailed 2-0. Both were own-goals, Blake said.

“We put ourselves in a hole pretty early,” Blake said. “We did not play well down there.”

In the second game at Pinecrest, the teams were scoreless after 80 minutes of regulation and 10 minutes of overtime. Pinecrest prevailed 4-2 on penalty kicks.

Blake noted that Pinecrest played a man down for most of the game.

“It was nice to get that win,” Blake said of evening the score with the Bucks for the season.

Pinecrest and Hoke both finished 13-1 in conference play to share the regular-season title. Hoke won the coin toss to be the top seed for the conference tournament.

The Patriots head to postseason play with a 22-2 overall record. They are led by senior Jair Ballesteros with 43 points on 12 goals and 19 assists. Junior Nick Vences has a team-leading 14 goals, along with nine assists for 37 points.

Junior forward Johnny Grguervic, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury suffered earlier in the season, has netted 11 goals and had three assists for 25 points.

Blake said his team has achieved its goals of winning the conference championship and getting to the state playoffs. Last year, the Patriots were the No. 5 seed in the West and lost to Hough in the third round.

“Our goal now is to go as far as we can in the playoffs,” Blake said. “So far they have done well. We need to keep it going a little longer.”

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