11/11/09 — Spring Creek advances to eastern championship

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Spring Creek advances to eastern championship

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on November 11, 2009 1:46 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- No matter the outcome, the game had a memorable feel to it Tuesday evening.

And a Spring Creek victory put the contest among the top moments in the program's still-growing sports history. Antonio Avila tallied the lone goal and the No. 2-ranked Gators upended No. 6-ranked Raleigh Charter 1-0 in third-round play of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A boys' soccer playoffs.

Spring Creek (17-2-1 overall) travels to No. 1-ranked Dixon in the eastern regional championship on Saturday. The Gators' advancement is the furthest of any boys' soccer team in Wayne County history.

"I cannot say how proud I am of these guys," said Spring Creek head coach Paul Estrada. "This team has come together and they have picked each other up as one unit, not 11 individuals."

Playing in a driving rainstorm, the Gators used their strong forward play to control the tempo. Five minutes in, Avila got a cleat on a one-touch shot that narrowly missed the left post.

Avila didn't miss his second chance.

Leo Ramirez collected a loose ball off a throw-in near the Phoenix sideline in the 17th minute. Ramirez turned toward midfield and as Raleigh Charter defenders closed in, he floated a pass across the face of the net.

Avila belted a low-lining shot past the Phoenix keeper.

"I really didn't feel like one goal was going to be enough to win tonight," said Estrada. "Both teams had their chances and there were four or five times that my heart sunk into my stomach."

As the weather worsened, Phoenix forward Jacob Schwab fired a shot off the crossbar in the 36th minute. Gator goalie Angel Sanchez delivered a diving save that thwarted a potential game-tying goal in the 50th minute.

Spring Creek senior Ricardo Rangel, constantly double-teamed throughout the match, narrowly missed an insurance goal in the 62nd minute. His shot sailed just inches over the Phoenix's goal.

Raleigh Charter had one final chance in the 68th minute when Spring Creek was called for a foul outside the 18-yard box. Schwab played the ball low and around the Gators' wall of defenders, but watched helplessly as Sanchez made another thrilling stop.

Sanchez finished with six saves and earned his 14th shutout of the season.

"Angel is a very smart player, and he just knows the position," said Estrada. "(Sanchez) played his best game of the playoffs tonight when we needed it most."

After a hard-fought game with Southwest Onslow just three days ago, the Gators drew just one card in Tuesday night's contest. Despite frustrating conditions, high expectations and playoff pressure, each team managed to keep its cool throughout the eastern semifinal clash.

"I want to commend Raleigh Charter for being a first-class group of kids," said Estrada. "Tonight was a showcase for two groups of young men and I give a ton of credit to Charter's coaches, fans and players."