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Lightning struck twice for Cary Christian early in the second half Saturday evening against the Greenfield varsity boys soccer team in the championship game of the Dr. Robert T. Stone Memorial Showcase at Forbes Field.
Two quick goals by the visiting Knights of the 3-A Eastern Plains Independents Conference in the first 90 seconds of the second half preceded the stoppage of the match due to actual lightning, leaving Cary Christian a 3-0 victor and the host Knights, 1-A members, of the split 1-A/2-A Coastal Plain Independents Conference, with their first loss after two wins.
The younger Knights, playing their first three games under new head coach Eric Nguyen, won 8-0 in the season opener Thursday against Fayetteville Freedom Christian and pulled out a 2-1 victory in double overtime against Thales Academy of Apex in Friday’s action at the season-opening showcase, originally called the Greenfield Cup and now in its 36th year.
However, against Cary Christian, which downed Thales 7-0 on Thursday and Freedom Christian 9-0 on Friday, Greenfield didn’t match up well.
“We played in well in our first two games,” Nguyen said. “We were probably undersized in those two games as well, but we came up against a Cary Christian team with 11 seniors. The were were very relaxed and composed.”
Greenfield, which lost senior midfielder Alonso Hernandez for the season to a knee injury in the spring and promising sophomore striker Jeremy Alvarez when he joined North Carolina Football Club’s 03 Premier team, was without the services of sophomore midfielder and co-captain Sebastian Partida. The game was originally scheduled for 1:30 p.m. but moved to 7 p.m. and Partida had a previous family commitment Saturday evening. His absence made life more difficult for fellow co-captains and seniors Jackson Stone and Patrick Smith in the middle.
“Sebastian really releases Jackson and William to pick up it up and gives them a little more freedom,” Nguyen said. “It was obviously a big loss last night without him.”
The host Knights, with just four seniors, didn’t push the ball into the offensive third often in the first half and when they did, two Cary Christian defenders were quickly on the mark. However, despite Cary Christian dominating possession, the visiting Knights didn’t have many great looks at the goal.
Greenfield senior goalkeeper Luke Flaherty was able to stop several Cary Christian shots that made it past his defenders in the first 20 minutes of the match.
“We knew they would have the majority of the possessions and that was part of our game plan to stay tight and compact and make every shot count,” Nguyen explained.
Cary Christian finally got on the scoreboard midway the first half when Flaherty came out to get the ball but was too late and the Cary Christian player maneuvered past him and converted an easy shot in front of the goal.
Nguyen said: “That one little mix up gave up an easy goal.”
Still, the Knights were happy only being down 1-0 at the half, Nguyen said.
That happiness quickly changed as the visiting Knights popped in two quick goals to start the second half.
“We gave the ball away in the middle of field and it was hard to recover on their counter,” Nguyen said.
Seconds later it was over as lightning flashes came closer, halting the match.
Even with his first loss as Greenfield coach, Nguyen, who was hired in June after coaching the Hunt High boys team the last four seasons, was happy with his team’s performance early in the season.
“I feel great about them,” he said. “Everyone worked hard all summer and going through our tournament this week, I’m especially happy about them going against a potential 3-A powerhouse with 11 seniors.”
The Knights will face a challenge this week in the eighth annual Rotary Cup tournament, starting Tuesday against Nguyen’s former team, the Hunt Warriors. Greenfield will play Beddingfield on Thursday and conclude the Rotary Cup on Saturday against Fike.
“I’m looking forward to it!” Nguyen said.
KNIGHTS SURVIVE THALES
Despite dominating play in the first half Friday, Greenfield witnessed Thales Academy find an equalizer in the second half before Stone finished a pass from eighth grader Matt Kirby in overtime to lift the Knights to a 2-1 victory on Forbes Field.
In the opening half, the Knights outshot Thales 15-2. In that span, Greenfield hit iron on six occasions, four of those striking the crossbar.
Before halftime, Greenfield did make the aggression pay off. Stone played quickly to sophomore William Smith, who slid a through ball to junior Zeke Ferrell for the finish. Ferrell tucked it away past the Thales keeper and into the net.
A second-half giveaway from the Knights allowed Thales to equalize. But with matches in the regular season requiring extra time beginning with the 2018 season, Greenfield found the game winner when Stone put it away off Kirby’s assist.
“We learned a lot about ourselves tonight,” Nguyen said. “I could not be more proud of our fight to close the game.”
The Titans, members of the Carolina Athletic Association for Schools of Choice banner in the Capital City Conference, claimed a forfeit win over Freedom Christian in Saturday’s first match.