RALEIGH — Leesville Road entered the Cap Eight 4A tournament as a No.7 seed after finishing the conference season 5-9, but it quickly shook things up, upsetting No. 2 Heritage and No. 3 Millbrook in overtime during the first two rounds.
The wins landed the Pride in the tournament final for the first time since 2010, and just as in the first two rounds, it forced top-seeded Sanderson into extra time.
Leesville Road had to win the tournament to secure a spot in next week’s state tournament, but the Pride’s time ran out after 100 minutes of soccer Thursday.
Sanderson senior Michael Clemmons knocked in a third-chance rebound shot with 18 seconds remaining in the second 10-minute overtime period for a 1-0 victory, ending Leesville Road’s run.
“They had a wonderful week of soccer and that’s what this team, these seniors, will be remembered for,” said Leesville Road coach Paul Dinkenor. “We had a solid season. We competed and we had a wonderful run, and we had a lot of overtime.”
While Leesville Road, which hasn’t missed a state tournament since 2008, was hoping to stay alive, Sanderson was going for a third straight sweep.
Win or lose, the Spartans would have been the conference’s top seed heading into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs, but with the win Sanderson finished its third consecutive year as Cap Eight 4A regular-season and tournament champion.
“It’s pretty impressive to have a team win the conference championship and the playoffs three years in a row, especially since you’re playing most of the same teams three times in a row,” Clemmons said. “Beating a team three times or two times is a difficult task, especially in such a short amount of time, so it was really important to us. The other team played a great game. … Their goalie had amazing saves, but we just stayed in it to the end and kept fighting.”
Chris Zappia was tested from the opening whistle, but the Leesville Road senior came up with save after save to help hold the Spartans scoreless through regulation and the first 10minutes of overtime.
The Pride pressured Sandersonkeeper Walker Lozaw as well, sending two shots sailing just over the goal during the final minute of regulation. Leesville Road eventually ran out of time, not taking a shot after regulation, and missing one last save that could have sent the match to a five-minute sudden-death period.
“It took a lot of guts and opportunity. We did everything we could to keep that one out,” Dinkenor said. “They had a lot of chances. Our goalkeeper Chris Zappia was outstanding, and defensively we are unrecognizable from where we were four to six weeks ago. … We had everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
Crowds on both sides of the field were fired up as the game rolled down to the wire, but Sanderson’s attack never let up.
“As the game went on I thought we got better and better,” said Spartans coach Todd Worley. “We put a whole lot of pressure on their keeper, and he came up big a lot, but I thought Michael Clemmons and Ryan Turner and Dylan (Haynes) they just jept going after him.”
With the state tournament up next for the Spartans, winning the conference title was key.
“You only have a chance to win conference championships every so often, so that’s how big it was,” Worley said. “They put the effort in. It was everything, because you don’t know if you’re going to win the next game, so that’s why it’s so big.”
Broughton topped Millbrook 1-0 in a game to settle the conference third-place finish. The teams finished the regular season tied.