11/03/11 — N. Lenoir-Fike soccer

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N. Lenoir-Fike soccer

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 3, 2011 1:56 PM

La GRANGE -- One bounce of the ball left the North Lenoir boys' soccer team standing in disbelief Wednesday evening.

History didn't favor the Hawks, either.

Wilson Fike converted all five attempts in a penalty-kick shootout and escaped 3-2 in the opening round of the 2011 N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A playoffs.

North Lenoir remained winless in the postseason since 2005.

"We were two evenly-matched teams, very equal in everything ... to take it all the way to PKs, it's just one bounce of the ball," said Hawks head coach Donnell Garris.

The Hawks (18-3-1 overall) and Golden Demons (14-7-1) traded a flurry of goals during a four-minute stretch in the opening half. Fike capitalized on wide-open space in the midfield as sophomore Jason Howe scored off an assist from senior forward Jovan Gracia, and Gracia added an unassisted goal.

North Lenoir senior forward Chastin Radford punched in his team-leading 22nd goal of the season off Kelvin Robinson's assist in the 12th minute. Oscar Navarete converted an indirect kick in the 37th minute to forge a 2-2 tie at halftime.

"We've been here before," said Garris before the second-half kickoff.

Play turned physical on both sides and drew constant whistles from the midfield referee. The teams combined for 35 penalties (fouls) and seven yellow cards. Fike was already missing its leading scorer, Carson Davis, who accumulated too many yellows during regular-season play.

The Golden Demons controlled the tempo and possession a majority of the second half. They stepped into passing lanes, redirected the ball upfield and pressured the Hawks' defensive third of the field.

Keeper Caleb Baird stood tall between the pipes and turned Fike away in the 60th, 68th and 77th minutes. The junior goalie finished with 15 saves, which boosted his season total to 170 in nearly 1,800 minutes of action.

"Their keeper came up big for them in the second half," said Fike head coach Toni Varacchi. "We had some opportunities. I wish we had possessed the ball a little bit more instead of looking to play that long ball because we weren't out-running their defense.

"I thought it was a well-played match ... back and forth."

The teams ended regulation tied at 2-2. The score remained deadlocked after two 10-minute overtime sessions and two five-minute "golden goal" periods.

Each team's season rested in the trusty gloves of Baird and Fike keeper Thomas Kim. The Golden Demons and Hawks each converted their first two PKs in the shootout round.

Howe gave Fike a 3-2 edge and then Kim recorded the night's biggest stop. Arms stretched wide, the junior bounced on the goal line and dove to his left to make a glove save against Navarete.

"You just have to make the best guess," said Kim. "That's what I did."

The Golden Demons scored more two goals and celebrated with a dogpile with Kim at the bottom. The Hawks watched in despair as their record-setting season came to a close.

North Lenoir set single-season records for wins (18), goals (82), assists (43), total points (207), conference wins (10) and claimed the program's first league championship since 2007 when it was a member of the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference.