From the NCHSAA:
In the closest of championship matches, Shelby outlasted Greene Central, edging the Rams in penalty kicks 5-3. Golden Lions goalkeeper Eli Wilbanks managed to keep Greene Central off the scoreboard in 120 minutes of regulation and overtime periods, making nine saves on his way to being named the 2A state championship match MVP.
Greene Central had more of the high-quality scoring opportunities in regulation as the Rams outshot Shelby 25-15 in the match, putting nine of those 25 on frame. Despite the best efforts of Ariel Nunez and Nathan Drake, the Rams couldn’t break through the Shelby defense. Nunez and Drake combined for 14 shots and caused headaches in the Shelby back line with their technical prowess, but the Rams never were able to find the quality strike needed to solve Wilbanks.
Shelby likewise had brilliant spurts of play from Greg Arce and Dylan Steeves but were consistently thwarted by the organized back four of Greene Central. Rams’ defenders Miguel Lopez-Berrios and Ernesto Rubio shut down attacks on the flanks and Shelby struggled to piece together any attacks at the center of the Greene Central defense.
After a scoreless draw through 120 minutes, the match headed to the penalty kicks. Shelby netted the opening kick of the shootout, while Greene Central’s Enrique Lopez-Lemus sent the Rams’ first kick off of the crossbar and out. It was the only miss of the shootout for either team, as in the fifth round of the shootout Cade Ledbetter drilled a ball into the right side of the net to claim Shelby’s third State Championship in program history. [The others were in 2009 and 2010.]
Greene Central finished the season 25-2-0. The Rams won the Eastern Plains 2A Conference with a perfect 12-0-0 record. The Rams won their first Eastern Regional Championship and appeared in the program’s first State Championship Match.
Shelby wrapped up the year 23-1-2. The Golden Lions were the champions of the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A at 12-0-0. The Lions won the Western Regional Championship for the fourth time in school history and appeared in the State Finals for the first time since three-straight finals appearances from 2008-2010.
The NCHSAA is committed to promoting good sportsmanship and has partnered with NC Farm Bureau to recognize two student-athletes from each state championship who have demonstrated outstanding sportsmanship throughout the year. The winners of the 2021 2A Men’s Soccer NC Farm Bureau Sportsmanship Awards were Eli Wilbanks from Shelby and Jose Morquecho from Greene Central.
Lincoln Herald comment: For LHS, whose 20-1-3 effort we called 'the Dream Season,' the thought (as with any team, like East Lincoln who won 27 without a defeat but fell 4-3 in the state championship match in 2019) has to be "it might have been us." Coach Brad Bagan, who kept us posted on the team all season long, told us: “We think we did pretty well for a team that doesn’t have a matching pair of shorts among us. Some of our guys had to borrow jerseys from the girls team. I had one player who was number 20 at home, 26 on the road. We certainly weren't the 'best dressed' team. We didn't have matching jerseys or shorts, borrowed some jerseys from our girls varsity team so everyone had a yellow game day shirt that fit...we were a lot like Baloo in "Jungle Book"--focused on making sure we had 'the bear (bare) necessities.' We didn't quite win them all, but I think we almost won our fair share this year...almost. Still, it was an improvement. We had only a dirt field a year ago; we've come a long way. I couldn’t be prouder of a group.”