Wildcats lock in playoff seed
Tue. October 22, 2013 at 9:59 p.m. | By Eric Detweiler | StarNews Staff Writer | Eric.Detweiler@starnewsonline.com
New Hanover goalie Connor Swanson grabs the ball as Hoggard's Gus Piepmeyer charges in during their game at Legion Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. (Photo by Jeff Janowski)
With a three-team logjam at the top of the Mideastern Conference possible, the New Hanover boys soccer team entered the final week of the regular season in control of its fate and determined to keep its playoff seed from being determined by a random draw.
The Wildcats won't have to sweat out an arbitrary tiebreaker after dropping rival Hoggard, 2-0, on Tuesday night at Legion Stadium. Junior Franco Fernandez scored in the first half and senior Chris Davis added a nifty insurance goal late as the Wildcats avenged an earlier loss to the Vikings.
New Hanover earned the No. 1 4A seed out of the Mideastern Conference with the victory thanks to two head-to-head victories over second-place Laney. The Wildcats also clinched at least a share of the conference title and will land an outright crown with a win or tie against Ashley on Thursday.
"After a result like this, it's only positive from here," Davis said. "We've just got to keep the momentum going and look forward."
New Hanover coach T.J. Rennie wondered how the emotion of the rivalry and senior night combined with the stakes would affect his team, and early on, he didn't like the results.
Hoggard (16-4-1, 9-3 Mideastern) scored three times in its win over the Wildcats on Sept. 26 and had several promising chances in the opening half but failed to capitalize.
Lucky to escape the shaky start, New Hanover (17-2-2, 10-1) seemed to wake up with Fernandez's goal in the 31st minute. The forward ran onto a pass from junior Jose Velasquez about 35 yards from goal and flipped a shot around the lunging keeper from just outside the 18-yard box.
It was Fernandez's eighth goal of the season. He also scored the game-winner in last week's nonconference win over Jacksonville.
"He's playing the best he's ever played for us," Rennie said. "He deserves a lot of credit for what he's doing right now."
Davis padded the lead, volleying home a cross from junior Ian Bennett in the 63rd minute. Bennett made a lengthy run down the left sideline and managed to float a perfect ball across to Davis with a slide before he reached the end line.
Hoggard should make the Class 4A playoff field as the No. 3 seed out of the Mideastern Conference but will likely have to start on the road.
The Vikings have successfully played a more offensive-minded system under first-year coach Peter Broadley but failed to produce any goals in their last two games against New Hanover County opponents. They were shut out for the first time this season by Laney (13-4-2, 9-2) on Oct. 9.
"We had our chances," Broadley said. "I mean the first 15 minutes we had a couple really super chances that ordinarily, in games previous, had been going in. No excuses, really. Those are goals that should be hitting the back of the net."