The soccer regular season is nearing its close, with East Lincoln (11-5-1, 7-1 SPC), Lincolnton (9-3-1, 5-2 SPC) and West Lincoln (2-6-1, 1-5 SPC) having five matches left in the season, while North Lincoln (6-10-1, 2-5-1 SPC) has four left.
Lincolnton was defeated by the Lake Norman Charter Knights 2-0 a week ago. The LNC Knights, somewhat of a dark horse in their first season in the Southern Piedmont Conference as a 1A school, have the best overall record and the second-best conference record, behind the East Lincoln Mustangs.
The Mustangs defeated the West Lincoln Rebels on Monday, 5-3 in overtime.
Stephen Shenigo and Seth Stockfish scored in the first half for East Lincoln, while Justin Tadlock scored seven minutes into the second half.
The Rebels answered with three goals of their own in the second half, two from Adrian Garcia and one from Juan Barajas, but the Mustangs pulled out the win in overtime.
The victory gave the Mustangs a 7-1 conference record ahead of their meeting with Lake Norman Charter today. East Lincoln beat Lake Norman Charter 3-1 in September.
The Lincolnton Wolves were heavily favored to win the conference headed into the season, ranking in the top-10 2A schools in the state. Theyâ€™ve since dropped to 12th, but have a good chance of pulling out wins over Cherryville today and North Lincoln, Highland Tech and West Lincoln in the coming weeks before their final match of the season at East Lincoln in two weeks.
â€œThe conference is still up in the air between us and East Lincoln,â€ Lincolnton head coach Ian Leith said.
â€œIf they go to Lake Norman Charter and lose, then all we have to do is tie with them, and if they go and win then we have to beat them at their place. Itâ€™s still in our hands as far as weâ€™re concerned.â€
Getting or not getting that final win wouldnâ€™t preclude Lincolnton from the playoffs, as three out of the four county teams are guaranteed spots in the postseason.
Based on past performance, however, it may not be a walk in the park.
Lincolnton lost to Shelby, the top-ranked 2A team in the state, 5-0 in mid-September. East Lincoln played the Golden Lions significantly closer, losing 2-1 in late August.
East Lincoln has won 10 of its last 11 games, the loss coming a week ago against Lincolnton.
The Wolves are looking for more consistency headed into the end of the season.
â€œWhen weâ€™re at the top of our game weâ€™re hard to beat,â€ Leith said.
â€œWhen weâ€™re playing as inconsistent as we have been, then we lose to Lake Norman Charter twice.â€
Leith said some of that inconsistency might come from a schedule that hasnâ€™t seen many close games.
Aside from the Wolvesâ€™ two losses to Lake Norman Charter and their one loss to Shelby, Lincolnton has outscored its opponents 53-8.
â€œWe havenâ€™t been mentally ready to play against teams that are capable of taking us,â€ Leith said.
â€œItâ€™s not that weâ€™re not trying, or coming out against these teams any differently than we would against someone we know we can beat, but I think itâ€™s more of an overconfidence problem.â€
North Lincoln and West Lincoln are competing for the final 2A spot in the playoffs. The Knights currently have two conference wins after defeating Highland Tech 4-0 on Monday.
West Lincoln faces Highland Tech today, Cherryville and Lake Norman Charter next week and Lincolnton and North Lincoln the following week.
West Lincoln head coach Tom Riley said, at this point, heâ€™s taking his schedule game-by-game, rather than looking ahead to the playoffs.
â€œWe cant worry about anyone except ourselves, and the game we have in front of us,â€ he said.
â€œWe just want to go out every game and be competitive. Itâ€™s not going to be handed to us, but we have to make the best of the opportunities that we have.â€
North Lincoln head coach Tim Harris said he was working with his team on playing as a unit headed into the playoffs.
â€œWeâ€™ve definitely turned a corner as a team, and I think weâ€™re starting to come together and play as a team instead of a bunch of individuals,â€ Harris said.
â€œWe started the season good as far as growth, and then hit a plateau. Now we realize that we have to do something to get into the playoffs.â€
MICHAEL GEBELEIN, Sports Writer