Pinecrest Academy boys’ soccer players didn’t huddle as much as they scattered after the Paladins’ 1-0 loss to Pace Academy on Tuesday at home in the second round of the Class A tournament. Some lay on the ground. Others hunched over on the team bench. They listened as Paladins head coach Chris Kane spoke emotionally, trying to put in perspective a season that accomplished so much but ended so abruptly.
“That’s what sort of stinks about sports,” Kane said. “If you don’t win the whole thing, you end disappointed.”
No. 5-ranked Pinecrest (14-3-0) walked away from its most promising postseason disappointed with its inability to generate much offense against a disruptive Pace team that dominated possession and controlled the rhythm of the game.
The Knights (9-6-1) got their lone goal in the 64th minute when sophomore Hobie Malik unleashed a flurry of shots from close range. He came down the right side and hit a laser that ricocheted off the left side of the cross bar. Somehow, it bounced right back to Malik. He one-timed it past Pinecrest goalkeeper Luke del Balzo into the right corner of the goal to give Pace the lead.
“If you give up so many rebounds, you’re going to pay for it,” Kane said.
Pinecrest entered the game with unique expectations for the program. The Paladins had won their first region title since joining the Georgia High School Association, grabbing the No. 1 seed in the state tournament and earning a first-round bye. They had the top-10 ranking, the momentum of a 10-game winning streak and the unfamiliar position of hosting a state playoff game as the favorite to win. They also had senior Patrick Houlihan back from an injury that caused him to miss the previous 10 games.
From the start, though, Pinecrest seemed off. The Paladins managed just two shots on goal and three corner kick opportunities in the first half. There were several long throw-ins, but none that developed into serious scoring chances.
Instead, Pace used its advantages of height and numbers in the midfield to keep the pressure on Pinecrest’s defense. The Knights’ scoring chances started to improve in the second half, first with a backdoor header by forward John King that del Balzo stopped with a highlight-worthy leaping block in the 44th minute. Malik had another good look in the 56th minute. The Knights had five corner kicks in the second half alone, matching Pinecrest’s total for the game.
“Our possession was certainly down,” Pinecrest senior defender Alex Brenner said. “We normally have a better possession and normally play it around the midfield better and get balls through. But Pace did a good job defending. They just got one ball through that we didn’t.”
Pinecrest was left to think of the chances that got away – the shot from Lucas Perez in the 47th minute that hit the cross bar, the two shots off a free kick in the closing minutes that Pace goalkeeper Sam Sloman deflected and then corralled.
“You sensed something was going to happen whether it was for them or us in those waning moments,” Kane said. “We just weren’t on our game tonight.”
When it was over, Kane lauded his seniors for their dedication to the program and implored returning players to remember the feeling.
He also tried to emphasize the journey of the season rather than its disappointing destination.
“There’s really nothing you can take away from [this season],” Brenner said. “We had a solid team. We’re just upset to lose in the second round.”