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Pinecrest Academy girls and boys soccer advance to second round
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Pinecrest Academy goalkeeper Luke Del Balzo pounces on a shot by Whitefield Academy on Friday. - photo by Bill Brown

Friday evening couldn’t have been more productive for the Pinecrest Academy boys and girls soccer teams.

Both entered the first round of the Class A private school playoffs and dominated the competition, shutting out their respective opponents and moving on to the second round.

Each team was buoyed by the performance of a young freshman making their first post-season appearance. Erin Houlihon scored both of her team’s goals, leading the Lady Paladins to their first playoff victory in school history, 2-0 over Galloway. On the boy’s side, Ben Rivard made the most of his post-season debut by netting two goals of his own and paving the way for a 5-0 victory against Whitefield.

Both teams will play at Hebron Christian on Tuesday.

The Lady Paladins set the tone for the evening early game against the Scots, dominating the time of possession and keeping consistent pressure in the opponent’s half. After a few near misses, Houlihon earned a penalty kick after being taken down at the top of the box. She stepped up to the penalty spot and calmly drilled a shot into the top right corner of the goal, putting her team up 1-0 near the end of the first half.

“We just knew that we had to get that first goal to ease our nerves,” Pinecrest head coach Chris Kane said. “We have 4 to 5 freshmen on the field at a time and a bunch of girls who haven’t been in the playoffs, so when we got that penalty kick, it really calmed things down.”

Little changed during the second half. Pinecrest slowed down the pace of the game and continued to keep the ball far away from senior keeper Bailey Evans, who saw very little action during the last half of the game. Just six minutes into the second half, Houlihon netted her second goal with the help of a high-arcing cross from sophomore Mary-Margaret Metz.

“I’m just really excited,” Houlihon said. “It’s awesome to be the first team (to win in the playoffs). When we play as a team and play with our virtues, we are unbeatable.”

The boys picked up right where the girls left off, coming out against Whitefield with a flurry of offensive movement. Pinecrest jumped out to a 2-0 lead during the first 20 minutes of the game behind goals from junior Lukas Perez-Sierra and senior Logan Hamilton. The Paladins hammered the opposing keeper, firing 14 shots in the first half alone.

“I was a little perturbed at our lack of finishing, but we’ve been focusing on coming out strong in the very beginning,” Kane said. “Our effort was really strong, especially in the second half.”

Rivard put his mark on the game in the second half, cashing in on his first goal of the evening just three minutes after the half began. Minutes later, Rivard scored a second time with a brilliant header in front of goal. Pinecrest tacked on one more in the closing minutes.

“Obviously, it was a bit nerve-racking going in to my first playoff game,” Rivard said. “But playing there, it felt very natural after a while. I feel like we have the potential to beat every single team in this tournament if we show the same tenacity that we did tonight.”