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In its effort to keep sole possession of first place in the North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A East region standings, the Wilson Christian varsity boys soccer team started Tuesday’s match with Raleigh Christian under duress and ended it with a lack of discipline.
Nevertheless, as a credit — or a curse — to the nature of the sport, the Chargers did enough in the final 25 minutes of the first half, riding the spectacular goalkeeping of senior goalkeeper Harrison Parker to survive the early onslaught and record a 2-1 victory.
Facing its chief competitor in District 3 play, Wilson Christian escaped to improve to 11-3-3 overall and remained unbeaten through seven region matches, beating the Eagles for the second time this season. Raleigh Christian, which pulled within a goal with 8:51 to play but couldn’t equalize, fell to 6-2 in all games and 4-2 within league play.
“Very fortunate,” Wilson Christian head coach Don Samson said of getting a win. “It really helps to establish where we’re going in conference and what we’re trying to do. I’m not pleased with how we played throughout, but finding an opportunity to win is a part of the game, and we got it.”
Indeed, Wilson Christian used a pair of goals from senior Gabe Barnes to establish a 2-0 lead at the half that was borderline unfathomable. The visiting Eagles attacked with aggression and forced Parker into six first-half saves, several of the difficult variety.
Bounding balls in the penalty area were available for Raleigh Christian to pounce on, and within the first 10 minutes, WCA witnessed a ball slam off the post and Parker denying the Eagles’ Guilherme Almedia Correia at close range. In the 48th minute, Raleigh Christian’s Seth Castleberry slammed another offering off the post, but the Eagles were whistled offisdes on the ensuing scramble for the rebound.
Parker finished with eight saves.
“I think tonight, he was the difference maker,” Raleigh Christian head coach Brock Cavenaugh said of Parker. “For me, he’s their man of the match. He’s very good, and we just tell our guys to stay focused, find the corners, and do what we do in training.”
Somehow, Parker guided the Chargers out of the Eagles’ first-half onslaught, and Wilson Christian capitalized on a pair of miscues to take a 2-0 cushion into the half.
With junior Ethan Mitchell pushing the ball forward and playing a through ball to Barnes, the senior took a pair of touches and launched it past Raleigh Christian keeper Tyler Kinney, putting the Chargers up 1-0.
Later in the half, Wilson Christian steadily built the attack from the defensive third and doubled the margin. Beginning with sophomore Will Hoskins bringing the ball across midfield, the ball was sent into the box. No Raleigh Christian defender arrived in time to clear it, and Barnes knocked it in for a 2-0 Chargers lead.
For Parker’s part, he fell on a loose ball at the top of the box with 25:03 to play, and midway through the second half, a dangerous build by Raleigh Christian was whistled down for offsides after Wilson Christian held its line just high enough.
“Honestly, I was feeling a little rusty,” Parker said. “We had our senior trip last week, and I didn’t get a lot of touches in. But we came into practice yesterday and got me a lot of touches. They were all good shots; I think I just kept my head in there.”
But for all of Raleigh Christian’s pressure, the Eagles pulled a goal back and applied game pressure to Wilson Christian with 8:51 to go. Off a corner kick, Correia found a shooting lane past Parker to bring the margin to the final score.
Wilson Christian, a firm contender for the NCCSA 2-A championship, began to crumble defensively.
The Chargers were assessed three yellow cards in the game’s final 6:25 — two to Barnes and another on senior Thomas Evans. Barnes picked up his second yellow with 28.5 seconds remaining, but it was booked as a disqualification and not an ejection, which meant that WCA was permitted to substitute and not go a man down.
Samson was left displeased with the way WCA ended play from a composure standpoint.
“That’s what we have to work on,” he said. “I was really disappointed with our guys the way we kind of just dropped and didn’t keep our heads about us. We put ourselves in bad places, which we felt like as the game went on, let them in where they didn’t necessarily need to be. So we’ll hit that area hard.”
Raleigh Christian pressured one final time into the Wilson Christian defensive third following the Barnes disqualification. but couldn’t get a shot off in the box before time expired.
“I felt like in just about every aspect of the game, outside of efficiency with our shots, we got outplayed,” Samson said. “Soccer can be funny. I’ve won games like this and lost games like this.”