LAURINBURG — Year after year in soccer, Pinecrest has been the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference.
But after Lumberton edged out a 4-2 win earlier this month to even the season series, the Patriots were hoping for a rubber match in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
“We were hoping we would get Lumberton in the final,” said Pinecrest coach Evan Saleeby. “We thought that would make the best game and we wanted a little revenge from when they beat us earlier this year and it kind of lifted the boys up a little bit to know we’d be playing them again.”
Similar to last time, the Patriots went up 2-0 at halftime, the difference Wednesday at Scotland High School was that the Patriots held strong in the second half and took the tournament championship with a 4-1 win.
“They’re a good team and probably the better team won tonight,” Lumberton coach Kenny Simmons. “We needed to play a little better than we did, although we didn’t play that bad.”
The game came down to the few good chances at goal that either team had.
Both of Pinecrest’s early goals came on hard-to-stop looks.
The first goal, in the seventh minute, came as Pinecrest’s Cameron Morton rushed the net on the far left side and hit a straight shot into the top of the far side of the net.
The Patriots extended the lead 14 minutes later when Rene Cruz caught a rebound in front of the net and immediately shot it in.
“The second goal did us in a little bit,” Simmons said.
Neither team controlled the pace for more than short periods of time. Both played physical, with players grabbing jerseys and jostling hard for position on headers. It led to four yellow cards issued, two for each team.
Pinecrest was limited to four total shots on goal in the first half and Lumberton had two.
Lumberton came out in the second half looking to push the ball forward to forwards Colby Johnson and Miguel Bello in the box.
Once the two got there, they struggled to find the final shot, often giving it up on an errant touch or a misplaced pass.
“I thought at crucial times in possession I thought we made maybe a bad decision or a bad pass that just broke everything down for us and you can’t do that for a team as well organized as them and be successful,” Simmons said. “They’ve got a quality defensive line that did a good job on Colby and limited his chances, but it seems like we didn’t have that final pass that we needed.”
Despite the struggles, Simmons was pleased that the push never stopped, even as Morton scored again to make it 3-0 five minutes into the second half.
Johnson nearly scored the first goal when he charged the net and headed a ball over the hands of Pinecrest’s goalie, only for defenders to clear it.
Lumberton eventually got a goal on a pass from Mack Kenney to Baruch Franco in the middle of the field with 17 minutes left.
Pinecrest’s Gerardo Perazo scored the game’s final goal with 10 minutes left.
Lumberton finished the game with five shots on goal and allowed 10.
Christian Valladarez played the first half in goal and had two saves with Pablo Lozano playing the second with four saves.
The game was the final conference match of the year for the Pirates, who will host an NCHSAA state tournament game next week.