11/07/12 — Gators don't skip a beat

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Gators don't skip a beat

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 7, 2012 1:48 PM

Linda Salter expected an easy transition when taking over the Spring Creek boys' soccer program.

Her history with the current Gators started on the middle school level and two of those teams won Wayne County Middle School Athletic Conference regular-season championships.

But Salter had her concerns.

Could the Gators maintain their recent success?

Could they repeat as Carolina 1-A champs for a fifth straight year?

Could they advance in the postseason?

It was up to Salter, the program's fifth head coach in the past six seasons, and assistant Jeff Sullivan to keep the team focused on its goals. The two met in June to discuss the upcoming season and devised a preseason plan.

"We knew we had a talented group and with the history of the team, we wanted to keep it going," Salter said. "Most of them had the skill set already, so it was all about communication, team ball and staying focused. We told them they were talented enough to win the conference and to make it to the playoffs.

"To achieve this success, they needed to come together as a team. How well they came together would determine how far they could go. No one player would win or lose a game for us."

Tenacious and determined, this young group of Gators -- there are 16 freshmen and sophomores combined on the roster -- stayed fairly calm under pressure throughout the season. Opponents' physical play and questionable on-field calls from referees and linesmen didn't affect the players.

Unselfish passing, team play and the willingness to apply what they learned each day in practice proved vital. Plus, the pride of the program's recent success provided plenty of incentive, too.

"They were driven to keep that going," Salter said.

And Spring Creek did.

The Gators secured an unprecedented fifth consecutive Carolina championship -- and sixth overall in the last seven years -- with a 4-0 shutout over Ayden-Grifton. Their 38-match unbeaten streak against conference opposition ended two days later.

Salter and Sullivan credited several factors that led to the team's title run.

Seniors Diego Carreno and Cristian Reyes has received tremendous help from three sophomores -- Alonzo Pineda, Marcos Castaneda and Marcial Perez. The group, along with keepers Victor Ortiz and Jose Sanchez-Garcia, has a posted a 1.78 goals-against-average this season.

Spring Creek has collected six shutouts and in its last 10 outings.

"Victor and Jose were not on the team last year," Salter said. "They were a nice surprise when the first showed up at practice in August. Both have seen plenty of minutes during the season and have made some great saves. Their strengths and weaknesses are a little different, but I have confidence in both of them."

Communication has been critical.

The Gators play a brand of soccer that undoubtedly shows their passion for the game. When they talk and consistently work the ball into open space, their offense clicks with precision.

And goals usually come with ease.

"It is amazing and fun to watch," Salter said.

Co-captain Otto Binar, a sophomore forward/midfielder, has emerged the team's offensive leader with 18 goals and eight assists. Junior forward/midfielder Brayan Lopez is close behind with 17 goals and seven assists. Ivan Lemus has eight goals, while Juan Vega and David Vega each have three.

Overall, 12 players have supplied either one or more goals or assists this season.

With numerous goals checked off its list, Spring Creek (13-2-3 overall) continues action today with a third-round, N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff contest at defending eastern champion Southwest Onslow. The No. 4-ranked Stallions (10-2-2) eliminated the Gators from the same round in the postseason a year ago.