TROUTMAN — Carson’s fifth-seeded soccer team used its final lifeline Wednesday night.
The SPC-champion Cougars excused themselves from the postseason table with a third-round loss at South Iredell. The score was tied 1-1 after regulation and 2-2 after overtime and sudden death before CHS was outscored 4-2 in a decisive round of penalty kicks.
“We went as far as we could and fate decided what happened,” senior midfielder Sam Cooley said after Carson closed the season with a 17-5 record. “We made history this year. No one can take that away.”
The 2013 Cougars were Carson’s first conference champions in soccer and first to win a state playoff match, topping both Hickory and Asheville before falling to the fourth-seeded Vikings..
“I told the boys when the sting of this loss wears off, they’ll be able to look back at what they accomplished,” said first-year coach Justin Buckwalter. “They made it to the third round and played their hearts out. I can’t be mad about anything. Penalty kicks — it’s a tough way to lose but somebody’s got to move on.”
South Iredell (19-2-2) advanced to face top-seeded Marvin Ridge in Saturday’s fourth round. The Vikings were anchored by brilliant senior goalkeeper Aaron Chapman, who made 19 saves and absolutely stoned Brandon Flores — Carson’s 39-goal scorer this autumn — on two occasions late in regulation.
“I’ve never had a better keeper,” said SI coach Dave Basinger. “He’s top notch. He makes great decisions. He’s very heady and has a lot of skills he’ll take to the next level. He probably was the difference tonight.”
Carson won’t argue with that. The Cougars outshot South Iredell 25-15 but never led, thanks largely to Chapman’s routine robberies and acrobatic play.
“Yeah, and I heard he was sick today,” said sophomore Ricky Maldonado. “He just came out and played a great game.”
Carson struggled to get its offense ignited in the first half and fell behind 1-0 with 15:05 on the clock. South’s third shot of the night came off a scramble in front following a throw-in by Juan Benitez. The goal came when Kyle Cronce pushed a loose ball past CHS keeper Grayson Owens.
“We came out a little flat,” Buckwalter said. “It was a mis-clear by us that fell right to one of their kid’s feet and he knocked it home. From then on we were always playing catch-up.”
They got there with 11:54 remaining in regulation after Maldonado was fouled in the penalty area. “I got pushed from behind and tripped in front,” he later reported.
Teammate Fox Correll levied the punishment when he blasted a penalty kick past Chapman. The scored remained tied until South went ahead with 4:12 to play in the first of two 10-minute overtime periods. Benitez initiated the play when he sent a long drive from the right side toward the goalmouth. Teammate Landon Guill found the ball along the doorstep and headed it to Zach Renton, who finished with another header that eluded Owens.
Carson let the tension mount before knotting the score 2-2 with just 46.1 seconds to go in the second OT. This time it was Maldonado who settled a ball some 20 yards from the cage and whipped a high shot over South’s defense and past Chapman.
“I didn’t even see the ball until a split second after it came off his foot,” Chapman said. “I heard the thwap of the ball and bam, it was past me.”
Carson defender Garrett Owens said the tying goal provided a much-needed spark. “We were playing our best but it was frustrating,” he said. “Then we scored and it got the whole team pumped up.”
Added Buckwalter: “Just an incredible individual effort. And a laser of a shot.”
Neither team threatened to score in either of the five-minute sudden-death sessions, meaning the win-or-go-home stakes would be decided in a shootout. Correll opened with a smash off the crossbar before Pedro Perez and Khalid Myers netted goals for Carson. But South went 4-for-4 against CHS keeper Ines Garcia — inserted because he excels in PK situations — to secure the victory.
“We feel lucky to have survived,” Basinger said, tossing the Cougars a post-game verbal bouquet.. “Carson’s a solid club. All the hype we heard about them was true. They were aggressive and never let us get our offense going.”
Maldonado, one of 15 underclassmen on Carson’s roster, voiced hope for the future. “We’re sad because we lost,” he said. “But we didn’t come here and get beat 5-0. We gave them the best fight we could until it came down to PK’s. It’s just going to make us hungrier for next year.”
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