It’s survive-and-advance time for the East Wake boys soccer team, even though the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs are still more than two weeks away.
The Warriors (10-6-2, 6-2-2 Greater Neuse River Conference) dispatched Southeast Raleigh 4-2 on Monday at Baker Stadium in a game they had to have. East Wake started the season 2-4 but have turned things around in the conference.
“We’re trying to at least make it to the playoffs and see how far we can go,” said senior Vicente Gallardo, who scored twice against the Bulldogs (3-14, 2-10).
The conference champion earns an automatic bid, with remain schools waiting on wild cards to make the 4A playoffs. East Wake hopes to be one of those, but the Warriors didn’t play like it in the first 12 minutes Monday.
East Wake had blitzed Southeast Raleigh 9-0 in their meeting four days ago, but the Bulldogs scored first this time around. Anthony Andino broke through the East Wake defense and put a shot past Warrior keeper Miguel Valdivia for a 1-0 Bulldog lead in the 12th minute.
“I knew it could be one of those trick games,” East Wake coach Jonathan Hasbrouck said. “We started out slow, and they got the first goal on us and kind of woke us up a little bit. Then we started to play a little bit better.”
Eduardo Lopez banged in the tying goal less than a minute later, and the Warriors took control in the 37th minute when Connor Dharma deflected an Elvin Lazo shot past Southeast goalie Kurtis Nugygen.
Coach Derek Teel’s team has been decimated this season with subtractions beyond his control, and it’s been a struggle to simply finish games. A quick start against East Wake was refreshing, especially given the result the last time they played.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries and we had six starters from last year who were ineligible,” Teel said. “We’ve been struggling all season. We’ve been starting out strong, but as the games go on, we’re getting fatigued, we’re losing our composure and breaking down at points. But the boys are showing up and playing hard for the seniors.”
Gallardo’s two goals 12 minutes apart in the second half put the game out of reach, but Southeast didn’t fold. Valdivia made an outstanding save on a Gallardo penalty kick and another on a free kick by Lopez. In the 76th minute, senior Filamon Gonzales scored, and his team kept pushing the remainder of the game.
Gonzales is a four-year starter for Teel.
“He’s a solid, all-around kid,” Teel said. “He’s been our rock in the middle. He’s second on the team in scoring, and he’s definitely one of our best players. And he’s been like that all four years he’s been in the program.”
Gallardo, a 6-foot-4 striker, is a key piece to East Wake’s playoff chances. He missed four games with an injury, and Hasbrouck had to find offense from other sources. Now that Gallardo is back, the Warriors are a threat.
“He’s our target up top,” Hasbrouck said. “We want to make sure we feed the monster. He’s played very well for us. With him out, we have found other people with different roles. Coming back, he’s been our main goal-scorer again.”
Now, the playoffs are within reach.
“We’re trying to build on it like a playoff run,” Hasbrouck said. “We have to win because we dug ourselves a little hole with the first half of the season. Now, we have to play every night for a result, for a win, a tie at worst.”
THEY SAID IT
“I wanted it really bad,” Gallardo said of getting a hat trick. “But you don’t always get what you want.”