A key weakness in the makeup of Sanderson’s boys soccer team finally caught up to it in a 3-0 loss to 23-seed New Hanover in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
For the whole season, the No. 18 Spartans (14-8-4) lacked a dominant forward who could finish and put goals on the board.
“If you watched this game, you understood what our flaw was,” said Sanderson coach Todd Worley. “We cannot score. We didn’t have a striker to get at the goal, so we manufacture a lot. (New Hanover) knew that and they took it away.”
The game didn’t feature back and forth shots on goal but rather a grinding battle in the midfield. New Hanover broke the stalemate 24 minutes into the game with a Shaffer Lisle rip 18 yards out on the right side of the box.
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The Spartans went into halftime down 1-0, a mirror image from the August match between the two squads. But in that game, Sanderson came back with two goals in the second half and the win.
“This game, we just lacked the effort going forward and it really sucks,” said senior goalkeeper Bryson Condrey. “Defensively, we were one of the most sound teams in the state, but tonight we just struggled scoring.”
Three minutes into the second half, Jack Kiernan scored the second goal for the Wildcats after he headed home a bouncing ball in the box. Around the 63-minute mark, New Hanover tacked on the final score from Declan Payne off a low free kick near the left sideline.
The Sanderson players and crowd were desperate for one goal, but good opportunities were hard to come by.
“We did not get anything where I would say was good,” Worley said. “Sometimes you’re a step off and tonight we were a step off and couldn’t get it.”
The loss was the final chapter to a playoff run with two wins: a 5-0 romp over No. 15 Garner and a 2-1 win over No. 2 Ashley.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and performance we put in,” said senior midfielder Grantham Williams. “I’m upset but I’m satisfied. We did our best, and we beat teams that on paper we weren’t supposed to.”
Worley mentioned Williams, Condrey, Andrew Noll and Michael Bell as key seniors who played well all season. He took his seniors out a few minutes before the final buzzer to give them each one final ovation on the pitch.
“It kicks in with about five minutes left when you’re down 3-0, and it kicks in that it’s over,” Condrey said. “It really hurts. It’s really hard to swallow because for most of the team of the seniors here, this is their last game. They’re not turning around to play club season.
“I feel bad that I let them down and gave up three goals, but we worked hard all season and we were one of the best defensive teams in the state.”