By Caleb Byrd
For the Forsyth County News
Pinecrest Academy’s boys soccer team came alive a little too late Tuesday night as Providence Christian Academy defeated the Paladins 2-1 in the second round of the playoffs, ending an otherwise successful season.
“I thought we did a lot of good things throughout the year,” Pinecrest head coach Domenic Martelli said. “Like winning the region, being region champions. It’s just today, letting certain things happen like their corner kick goal, we didn’t do enough of the right things. It’s hard because I knew we had the opportunity to win and we gave up too much of the things we knew [Providence] would do. For the seniors, being their last game, it’s hard because we had the chance to win it. It just hurts.”
The Paladins were on their toes on defense for the majority of the first half as Providence relentlessly attacked the goal. Paladin defenders Miles Brajdic, Michael Kutter, Grayson Thomason, Patrick Flanigan and goalie Evan Kane were all but gassed by the second half.
They did everything they could to push the ball back upfield, but Providence kept reloading and firing. Aggression defined Providence’s gameplan, and Pinecrest just couldn’t seem to match it.
Kane saved six of seven shots taken by Providence in the first half, and those saves were by no means easy.
But the one goal that slipped past him in the first half was the trickiest of all.
Providence’s Aaron Lee set up for a corner kick, but instead of crossing the ball toward the goal, Lee tapped it a few feet in front of him to August Larson.
Lee sprinted toward midfield, curving back toward the goal as Larson placed a near perfect pass in front of him. Lee connected with his right foot and sent the ball hurling towards the left corner of the goal, just barely off the ground.
Pinecrest’s defenders frantically tried to stop the ball, and Kane dove to his left, but the ball skirted past his fingertips and the play succeeded.
Kane had it just as rough in the second half, saving eight of nine attempts at the goal by Providence.
Kane saved 14 of the 16 shots taken against him. It would be hard to demand any better play from your goalie under the circumstances, especially when the shot that proved to win the game for Providence was so jaw-dropping.
The Storm’s Shawn Combs sent a free kick from deep midfield sailing toward the goal, high and hanging. Aaron Lee coasted under it, sending it on a slow lob right over Kane’s head, who had charged out of the box to try to intercept the kick.
It was a highlight-reel assist and finish, but it snuffed out any real hope for a Paladin comeback with fewer than 14 minutes left in the half.
In frustration and desperation Pinecrest finally mustered up some aggression to match Providence after 73 minutes of play, but it was too little too late.
With around four minutes left, Grayson Thomason set up for a free kick from midfield and sent a rocket toward the goal. A Providence defender kicked it out, but it was recovered by Pinecrest’s Juan Penso.
Penso cut around a few defenders, and found a lane to feed the ball to Patrick Flanigan. Flanigan kicked out to his right and found Michael Kutter near the sideline.
Kutter took one look across field and sent the ball flying in the air toward a wide-open Colin Brown sprinting to the goal. Brown connected with the cross and the ball sneaked into the corner of the goal.
The momentum was short-lived, and Providence chewed the clock until time secured for them the win.
But there is one thing that bodes well for Pinecrest in that one goal, and which bodes well for the future of Paladin boys soccer: every player involved in that play, except for Thomason, has at least one more year of eligibility.
Penso is a freshman; Flanigan, Kutter, and Brown are juniors; and nearly an entire starting roster will return with them.
“We’re only losing one starter,” Martelli said. “So we want to come back and be as strong as we were this year, next year. And we can. That’s the positive part of it.”