HUNTERSVILLE –– Lincolnton’s boys soccer team left Lake Norman Charter Wednesday knowing it’s time to prepare for what lies ahead –– next season.
Lake Norman Charter converted a key penalty kick in the second half, and held off the Wolves down the stretch as it ended Lincolnton’s season with a 2-1 win in the third round of the NCHSAA state 2A playoffs.
The Knights (15-6-2) moved on to face Shelby, a 1-0 winner over Ashe County, in a regional semifinal match on Saturday while the Wolves’ season came to an abrupt end.
“Most of these boys are juniors or younger, so if they can put the same heart into each other and find someone to lead them, I’d like to see us make a similar run next year,” Lincolnton coach Ian Leith said, “and keep going.”
The future may look bright for the Wolves (15-4-2), but they were still left with the thought of “what if” on Wednesday.
Lake Norman Charter owned the first half, and had a 1-0 lead to show for it at the break.
Nearly 8 minutes into the second half the Knights went up 2-0 when Parker Moss connected on a PK after a handball in the box on Lincolnton.
Down 2-0 and struggling to get shots, the Wolves got one back exactly a minute later when Jeffrey Perez put one through on his third chance in a sequence that saw Knights keeper Christian Hall save a shot by Perez, another Lake Norman Charter player get a deflection, then Perez finally broke through on a shot to the open side of the net.
Lincolnton had a few chances late to tie, but the first half goal by Will Silva proved too much to overcome.
“In the first half I thought they played better than us. In the second half it was probably 50-50. It was a game of two halves,” Leith said. “The first half they deserved the goal they got and we didn’t deserve one. In the second half I thought 1-1 was good.”
Lake Norman Charter dominated the shots on goal statistic 22-9, and one of those shots came on some fancy footwork by Silva.
Roughly a minute after Silva’s rocket shot from outside of the 18-yard box was saved by an outstretched Lincolnton keeper Daniel McBride –– he had 11 saves –– Silva dribbled the ball through traffic, using professional soccer-like moves then stuck it in for the 1-0 lead with 10:21 left in the half.
With 33:10 to play, Moss gave his team a 2-0 lead.
Down 2-1, Graham Willis missed just wide of an open net with 9:30 to play that would have tied it. With 6:10 left Juan Abonza’s hard shot was stopped by Hall.
That was the last good shot Lincolnton had at the net.
“I don’t think we took enough shots in general,” said Leith, who wasn’t upset that the eventual match-deciding goal came on a penalty against his team.
“It was the right call (and) it’s part of the game, it just is,” he said. “It is what it is. It doesn’t bother me necessarily.”
“You always hate to lose, but I like the fact that we can walk off here with our heads up,” Leith added. “We played well.”
Having reached the third round for four years in a row, Lincolnton was denied a third trip to the fourth round by a team it is now 0-5 against all-time.
When the season started Leith didn’t know if reaching the third round was a possibility, but it was. And it happened.
Even in the loss, Leith and the Wolves had a heck of a year.
“Going into this season I wasn’t real sure what to expect. … To be honest, I think it’s one of the best seasons I could have hoped for,” he said. “They’ve played the way I’ve asked them to play. They put their time into making a run like this. We very, legitimately, can play with anybody, and we proved that tonight. It was a close game the whole time.”