Middle Creek coach Eddie Wasdell was wary of Garner’s multiple scoring threats as he approached Wednesday’s first-round 4A boys soccer playoff game.
So Wasdell went into something of a “prevent defense.” The tactic kept Garner off the scoreboard and helped Middle Creek pull of a 1-0 upset at Trojan Stadium.
“We knew they had a lot of dangerous attackers,” Middle Creek coach Eddie Wasdell said. “We really stressed dropping off and staying behind the ball to limit their opportunities.
“The boys in the back played really well. When we did get exposed, someone covered and we were able to pick off a lot of their crosses. Our keeper made some big interceptions as well.”
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Rain began early in the game and became heavy before ending late in the second half. The teams slogged up and down the field for 68 minutes before Middle Creek scored the game’s lone goal.
Middle Creek got the winner with 11:49 remaining when junior Tyler Conrad scored from the left post to put the Mustangs up 1-0.
Middle Creek (11-8-5), which finished fifth Southwest Wake Athletic Conference and the 23rd seed in the Eastern bracket, made the lead stand up despite continued pressure from Garner (16-7-1), the No. 2 team from the Greater Neuse River Conference and the No. 10 seed in the East.
Middle Creek advanced to a second-round game at No. 7 Jordan, 5-2 winner over Fuquay-Varina in the first round on Tuesday.
The game was the final one for Garner coach Jon Sherwin, who is stepping down as coach to concentrate on his academic responsibilities as one of the directors of the school’s International Baccalaureate program.
Sherwin guided the Trojans to GNRC titles in 2012 and 2013 and three straight playoff appearances.
“We have a lot of variety in our attack,” Sherwin said. “We have some guys who can shoot from the outside, we have some guys who can move the ball through and we have some speed so if we get the ball behind them we can take it to their keeper.
“It seemed like we kept probing and could not find a place that we could get through (their defense). We were moving people around in the back. In the final minutes, we threw a fourth attacker up there and couldn’t get through it.
“They were making sure we couldn’t get our attack off, and it worked. It always seemed like we had six people between us and the goal. Kudos to them.”
The Middle Creek goal came on a nearly point-blank shot from the left post by Conrad. The Mustangs worked the ball down the right side and then crossed to a 2-on-1 situation. Once Conrad beat a Garner defender, he sent the ball across the goal mouth into the right side of the net.
“I was right there at the end post and beat a guy and then put it in left-footed,” Conrad said. “I knew it was in. I just had to bury it on the ground and aimed for the far corner.
“It was a really tight game the whole game. Both defenses were sticking hard. I felt like if we could just hold on for 10 more minutes, we would be good.”
For Garner senior co-captains Bryson White and Adam Gogal, the season ended all too quickly.
“I don’t know if it was what they were doing defensively, it was just our incapability to finish,” White said. “It was just one of those games. We really as a team went out there and played our hardest. That is all we can ask for. At the end of the day, if we went out there and played our hardest and gave all we got we can’t complain.”
Gogal said the Trojans worked even harder after Middle Creek’s goal, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer.
“Mentally we all regrouped and gave it our all for another 11 minutes,” Gogal said. “It the end, it didn’t work out. That’s life sometimes and that’s soccer. It can be a cruel game and it can be a really rewarding game. We can’t hang our heads. We have to walk away from this and remember that the season was still a success.”
Sherwin is confident he is leaving the program in good shape.
“We have a lot of juniors and another class behind them in the sophomores,” Sherwin said. “Our JV team was very successful. If you are going to leave a team, it’s nice to leave it and good place so that someone else can come in and take it somewhere else.”