By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
For the first 73 minutes of their final home game, Pinecrest Academy’s boys soccer team spent the majority of their Senior Night trailing a goal behind reigning state-champion Whitefield Academy thanks to some luck, a few prayers and some timely defensive play.
When Whitefield’s Matt Sound found himself with possession in the Pinecrest box inside of the final 8 minutes, he fired a cross to teammate Rachid Bilotti who tapped in the finishing touch on the 2-0 win and the region championship.
“When you can go basically 80 minutes and have the chances we had in the first half, I thought it was great,” Pinecrest head coach Domenic Martelli said. “I’m very happy for us to have played (Whitefield). Yes, it was for the region championship, yet we just are short of that, but either way you still have the state playoffs and you still have to move forward into May.”
An early goal by Whitefield’s West Peterson highlighted a first half that saw the Wolfpack use a clear speed advantage to threaten numerous times, with the Pinecrest defenders repeatedly clearing balls just a hair ahead of Whitefield attackers, while the shots that did make it through sailed wide or landed in the waiting hands of Paladins goalkeeper Matthew Del Balzo, who finished with 10 saves on 20 Whitefield shots.
“(Del Balzo) was solid,” Martelli said. “That’s been waiting to happen all year, and I’m glad he was able to do it against the best team in the state.”
The most-impressive of Del Balzo’s saves came with around 10 minutes left in the first half. After spoiling another hard shot by Peterson with a sliding stop yet losing the ball in the process Del Balzo managed to find his feet and make an additional pair of lunging deflections on a second and third shot by Bilotti.
“I came out to get the ball, and I kind of lost it,” Del Balzo said. “Honestly, on the next two saves I think I was just in the right place.”
Despite only putting seven shots on goal to Whitefield’s 20, the Paladins were not without scoring opportunities. Senior Gabe Villar led the Pinecrest offensive effort with a pair of shots that sailed just wide, while repeatedly hustling into near scoring-opportunities.
“Well, opportunities are opportunities,” Villar said. “It’s one thing to create them and another thing to capitalize on them.”
In spite of the loss, Villar and his teammates were grateful for the late-season game against a team they consider to be a preview of what is to come in next month’s state playoffs.
“I think (Whitefield) is going to be a huge help for us,” Villar said. “The way they played and the way we came out, we have to have that intensity and tenacity going into state playoffs.”