By RYAN HERMAN
VALE –– Fighting for its state playoff life, East Lincoln got a much-needed win.
Houston Rust came up with one of the biggest shots of the Mustangs’ season in overtime Monday as they held off West Lincoln 2-1 to keep their slim state playoff hopes alive.
With the NCHSAA’s new state playoff seeding rules in boys soccer, East Lincoln, which wraps up its regular season today at home against Bandys, will have to rely on what happens to a bunch of other teams in the coming days.
The sport’s playoffs are now seeded much like football’s, with the top 64 teams in each classification in terms of overall winning percentage making the cut.
Heading into Monday’s match the Mustangs (8-11-1, 4-8-1 Southern District 7 Athletic 2A) were teetering at the bottom of the list, coach Jason Dragoon said.
While he doesn’t know if the win helped them any, it certainly didn’t hurt.
“We’re right on the edge of it, so every win is big in terms of percentage,” Dragoon said. “We had to go for the win.”
Playoff-bound teams will be seeded 1-32 in two separate East and West brackets. Each single-classification conference will get three automatic qualifiers, which go to the top three spots in the league. As far as the SD-7 goes, those spots are already taken by Newton-Conover, Lincolnton and West Caldwell.
The rest of the field will be filled in, then seeded based on overall winning percentage through 22 matches.
East Lincoln can’t finish the league race any higher than fifth, which is where it’s at now. But the league race for five of the eight teams has been over for a while, with the top three teams pulling away.
Now, it’s about winning each match and keeping the season alive, and that’s what the Mustangs did on Monday.
Rust’s goal, his first of the year, was a bit of a surprise –– for both teams. He had the ball all alone roughly 30 yards out, and decided to shoot. It sailed over everyone’s head, including West Lincoln keeper Daniel Amaya, and into the net to put East Lincoln on top for good.
“It was a bomb,” Dragoon said.
The converted shot –– which came in the first 10-minute overtime period –– was one of just six shots on goal by East Lincoln on the day. In contrast, the Rebels (0-12-1 SD-7) had 22 shots on goal, but only converted one –– a penalty kick on a handball inside the 18-yard box late in regulation.
The goal, scored by Ivan Cavillo with about 3 minutes to play, tied it at 1 and ultimately sent the match into overtime.
“I can’t take anything away. We didn’t give up when we went down a goal. We kept plugging, got the PK, tied it up, (and) sent it to overtime,” West Lincoln coach Tom Riley said. “We’ve had opportunities, we’ve had looks. We’ve just got to get the ball off our foot a little quicker.
“It was senior night, the seniors played well. They’ve had good leadership and I’m going to miss it. But I’ve got good leadership coming up in these sophomores and juniors. We’ll see what comes from it for next year.”
With West Lincoln holding a significant advantage in shots, Mustangs keeper Tony Cardwell did his part to keep his team in.
Cardwell had 10 saves.
After a scoreless first half in which West Lincoln ripped off seven shots to East Lincoln’s two and with the sun going down in a hurry, Michael Hernandez broke the scoreless tie in the 71st minute.
Brett Shanklin’s throw-in from the sideline was headed in by Hernandez right in front of the net, giving the Mustangs the lead.
Six minutes later the Rebels had possession in the box when the ball bounced up and hit Hernandez on the right hand. Cavillo drilled the penalty shot.
In overtime West Lincoln had three shots but again no luck. East Lincoln took just one shot, the one that mattered.
The win gave it three in a row after it had dropped five straight. It also kept the Mustangs’ hopes for a playoff berth alive.
“We weren’t looking to possess it, we were looking to go-go-go because we needed to win,” Dragoon said. “I’m very, very proud of the boys. It was an unbelievably hard-fought battle.”