Prep Soccer: Salisbury in 2A West final at Shelby

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 16, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY —Victorious Salisbury soccer players left Ludwig Stadium on Saturday uncertain whether Shelby had survived a fourth-round match with East Lincoln that had extended into double overtime.
When that result came in — Shelby 2, East Lincoln 1 — Salisbury coach Matt Parrish texted Hornets to inform them that the Golden Lions, a frequent obstacle for Salisbury, had indeed advanced in the 2A playoffs.
Their reaction was not necessarily what he expected, but it was a reaction he feels good about. None of the Hornets leapt off a bridge. None called in sick. All were excited.
“I think they really wanted to play Shelby,” Parrish said. “It’s one of those if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best sort of things.”
It may be one of those careful-what-you-wish-for sort of things after tonight’s 7 p.m. meeting in Shelby in the 2A West final.
On the other hand, this fourth-ranked Salisbury team is 22-1-1 and perfect against 2A foes. It’s resilient and experienced and boasts an agile, 6-foot-5ish goalkeeper, and there’s a chance it may boldly go where no other bunch of soccer-playing Hornets has ever gone — to the state championship match.
“I would say we have a team that doesn’t quit and a team that believes in each other,” Parrish said. “It’s a team that has maximized on its opportunities most of the season. I know the knock on Salisbury in the past is that it doesn’t respond to adversity well, but we were down 1-0 to Cuthbertson (in the third round) with 2:10 left. Now that’s very serious adversity, but we won.”
That comeback against Cuthbertson allowed the Hornets to finish with a perfect record at Ludwig Stadium.
“Going undefeated on our home turf was a big goal, and we’re all super-proud of that,” Parrish said.
Salisbury easily dispatched sixth-ranked Surry Central in Round 4 , but it will be an underdog tonight for the first time since it tied 4A Lake Norman on the road on Sept. 8.
The Hornets also had a match set at 4A Ardrey Kell as preparation for a test such as tonight’s, but weather erased it from the schedule.
Shelby (24-1) is currently ranked second in 2A, but there’s no doubt it’s the No. 1 program in the classification, until someone can prove otherwise. The Golden Lions earned a state title in 2010 and they also won in 2009. In 2008, they were runner-up to Cardinal Gibbons before Cardinal Gibbons moved up to 3A.
There are battle-tested seniors on this Shelby team who already have played in three state-title games, and that sort of pressure-packed experience can’t really be simulated in any other environment.
On top of that, Shelby’s marches to state-championship appearances in 2008 and 2009 included shutout wins against Salisbury.
The Hornets, annual champions of the CCC, have their own illustrious soccer history, just not quite as glowing as Shelby’s. Even though they’ve never played in the big one, this is the Hornets’ fifth time in the Final Four.
Salisbury lost to Charlotte Catholic in the 2A West final in 1996, to Elkin in 1997, to Catholic again in 2001, and to Shelby in 2008.
Salisbury’s 2009 setback against Shelby was a 1-0 decision in the fourth round.
Shelby returns three standouts from last year’s run — All-State forward Jerry Zeller and all-region Mason McCarter and Preston Almond.
“They’re just a very stout side,” Parrish said. “Very balanced. Very disciplined. Very legit. They’ll be the best we’ve played.”
Salisbury answers with five all-region veterans in scoring machines Kenny Bonilla and Emmy Turcios, dazzling midfielder B.J. Woods, keeper Connor Miller and defensive demon Spencer Dixon.
“On paper, by history and by prestige, it’s an uphill battle for us,” Parrish said. “But I know we’ll have 20 guys ready to go.”
NOTES: Top-ranked Carrboro (23-1-2) plays third-ranked East Duplin (24-1) in the East final. Shelby beat East Duplin on penalty kicks in last year’s title matchup. … Even Shelby’s lone loss this year was impressive — 2-1 to 4A title contender T.C. Roberson.