GARNER — Garner has been one of the top athletic powers in the Triangle for about as long as anyone can remember.
But before this season it had never won a conference title in boys’ soccer.
Garner put the cherry on top of its Greater Neuse River 4A crown Wednesday night, topping Harnett Central 1-0.
The win was the seventh straight for Garner (15-2-1, 11-2-1), which already owned the regular-season title and will take on a wild-card team to open the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs in six days. Harnett Central (8-5-7, 5-3-6) also will be in the postseason.
“We’ve had some good seasons and some rough seasons, and this will be the sixth time my team has made it to the playoffs,” said Jon Sherwin, who has been Garner’s coach for 12 seasons. “I think winning it is pretty big. I told them at the beginning of the season they needed to step up. I’ve had teams in the past that could have been champions and weren’t.
“I told them they could be the first team to win it, or they could be another team that everybody forgets. And they stepped up and won it.”
The score was 1-1 in their first meeting of the season Oct. 1 in Angier.
“The goal they scored could have been prevented, and we didn’t create as many chances as we should have and could have,” Harnett Central coach Kevin Rice said. “I thought it was an even match – there were times they controlled the game and times we controlled the game, but we just didn’t have a ball go in.”
The goal came during the 48th minute, as Thomas Dinka followed the rebound of a hard shot from Marco Perez.
“I just saw Marco about to take the shot,” Dinka said. “I always run in in case the ball bounces out to me like it did tonight, and I just put it away.
“This whole year has been great. Our team has been really close and we’ve become like a family.”
Perez said it was an awesome feeling to be a part of history.
“It’s been a long ride, and we still have more to come,” Perez said. “Our hustle was great tonight, and the way that we moved the ball and opened up space was great.”
Garner outshot the visitors 10-4 in a game played mostly between the 18-yard boxes.
Senior Kenneth Perkinson recorded the shutout, his 10th of the season.
“This means a lot,” Perkinson said. “Last year we had a lot of talent, but this year we had so much more chemistry as a team. Everyone really wanted this. The defense helped me with every shutout, the midfielders helped keep the ball in the middle and the forwards scored more goals than I ever saw us score.
“I’m just glad for all the other seniors that we’re going out with such style and such history.”