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home : sports : local sports January 29, 2022

11/16/2021 6:47:00 AM
Soccer Playoffs

Wayne Howard
Reporter


The football season is over for Lincolnton, West Lincoln, East Lincoln and North Lincoln.  All four made the playoffs but all have now been eliminated. What we have called ‘the dream season’ continues, however, for the Lincolnton High School soccer (what the rest of the world calls “football”) team.  The Wolves play for the western region 2A championship this Tuesday evening at 7:00 at home against Shelby.

The unbeaten LHS team (20-0-3) will host a Shelby squad (21-1-2) that has only one loss.  The Golden Lions lost to Stuart Cramer, a 3A team that many believe should still be alive in the 3A playoffs, in late August. Cramer lost in the third round to Central Academy of Monroe.  Shelby had two ties during the regular season, LHS had three. 

Last Thursday’s fourth round win was far from easy.  The Salisbury Hornets gave Lincolnton all the team could handle.  The Wolves trailed 1-0 at the half, and didn’t score the tying goal until four minutes left in regulation.  That sent the game to overtime.  In North Carolina high school soccer, there are two 10-minute OTs.  LHS scored in the first to take a 2-1 lead, but Salisbury scored in the second.  When that happens, five-minute ‘golden goal’ OTs are played (two if necessary).  The first team to score wins.  If nobody scores, the match is decided by penalty kicks.  That’s what happened Thursday. 

The Hornets took the lead, but with a chance to end it, they missed.  Lincolnton evened the shootout at 4-4 on goals by A-Aaron Lail, Zander Harrison, Zack Zagorski and Kevin Calvo.  Brayan Avilez put Salisbury back in front 5-4, but Lincolnton's Jarrett Trejo answered. A save by Wolves goalkeeper Sam Carpenter and a Lincolnton goal by Andre Aberrnathy gave the Wolves their 20th victory.

Following the win on a foggy night when the team didn’t seem to have its usual stamina, Coach Brad Bagan talked about the match:

“My back four was out of this world tonight, which was key because for much of the game our front six was stagnant. At this level in the playoffs, you need creativity, movement, and  the guts and decisiveness to just put your head down take someone on one-on-one to get into the box yourself or create the movement needed for a combination play,  It was almost as if nobody was willing to take the risk in the part of the field where you have the most freedom to express yourself and take risks. For long stretches, we seemed happy to pass the responsibility off to someone else…when all of the front six and especially our front three have the ability to make something happen individually--or especially together.  At times it was frustrating to watch.

“During the penalty kicks, when Jarret Trejo stepped up to take his spot kick after we had leveled it and Salisbury hit their next one to push the advantage back in their favor, I had zero hesitation put the weight of the world and the fate of our season on the shoulders of that sophomore…even though he has had a bit if an up-and-down growing pains type of year where we have seen both highs and lows in his confidence, and  his level of play has not at times been up to the high expectations both he and I have for him knowing his capabilities. But this kid is different from most sophmores; and in the moment when it’s kick a goal or go home, 9 times out of 10 he is going to deliver. 

“We knew Sam [Carpenter, goalkeeper] would save at least one of the spot kicks and man! did he pick the right time to do it!  We have had our 1st -10 PK shooter rotation set for a long time, way before playoffs were even on the horizon, and I knew that save was going to put Andre "The Iceman" Abernathy on the spot next with the chance to step up and win it for us.  Andre gets his nickname because any skills challenge you in front him with the ball at his feet, he has absolutely no nerves, no emotion, no fear, and is just stone cold about it and handles his business.  Thursday night, his last touch of the ball was in the pre-game warm-ups, but he stepped up to the spot calm, cool, and collected like it was ‘another day at the office.’  He faked out Wade Robbins, the outstanding Salisbury goalkeeper I had coached in past and who is phenomenal in his own right. 

“Completely unphased by the crowd and the pressure of the moment, Andre sent Robbins the wrong way and hit a sniper’s shot that snapped the back of the net making the posts ring.   Then it all exploded as the "Ice Man" sprinted up the fan sideline with the team sprinting up the line on his heels to celebrate. It was a truly special moment for our team and fans and one that will not be soon forgotten by this team, the program alumni, parents, or myself and staff…what a moment for this program and these kids!

“Credit to Salisbury…they pushed us to our absolute limit…great program, great coach!  But at the end of the day one of us had to go home and I am glad it wasn’t us. I saw grown men cry, students rush the field with pride, and  players fight to the end and become a band of brothers tonight in a way they will carry with them the rest of their lives. What a night!”

A win Tuesday night will send either Lincolnton or Shelby to the NCHSAA 2A championship game this weekend in Cary.

In 3A playoff action, Hickory will host Concord, the team that eliminated North Lincoln 2-0 in the third round and East Lincoln 4-0  in the fourth. 




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