It was quite a ride for the Indian Land High School boys soccer team.
The regular season was a great one - the Warriors finished a perfect 16-0 - but, when the ride ended, it slammed to a halt.
After opening the playoffs last Thursday with a win over Greenville Tech, Indian Land hit a wall at powerhouse Southside Christian, dropping out of the playoffs with a 4-0 loss on Saturday.
"I wish it could have been closer," Head Coach Adam Cole said after the loss. "It's definitely not a reflection of our season, but we'll recover."
Three really was the magic number in Indian Land as the boys soccer team defeated Greenville Tech 3-0 to advance into the third round of the playoffs.
"That was our goal tonight, to win, and to try to beat them by three goals," Cole said.
After finishing the season a perfect 16-0, Cole went to the South Carolina High School League playoff seeding meeting in Columbia last weekend, hoping to argue that his team deserved a top seed in the bracket.
The Warriors were instead handed to three seed behind private school powerhouses Christ Church and Southside Christian, Cole explained, in part because of arguments put forth by a few coaches, including Greenville Tech's Anthony Koutsos.
"We were really ready to get back at these guys tonight," Cole said.
It was also the third time the teams had met this season - the Warriors won both previous meetings in very competitive, one-goal games.
Greenville Tech began the May 14 match with speed and intensity, holding possession for much of the half and giving themselves at least half a dozen promising scoring chances. Two of its shots sailed just wide of the net while Warrior goalkeeper Patrick Sweatt stepped up aggressively to snuff out many others.
Indian Land's leading scorer Sergio Esparrago was held in check and frustrated by a physical Greenville Tech defense for much of the first half, earning a yellow card for a confrontation with a defender late in the half.
"Sergio definitely has a temper," Cole said. "But when he focuses that temper into soccer skills, no one can touch him."
The teams went into the locker rooms with a scoreless tie at halftime, but when they returned, the Warriors did not take long to turn the match around.
It was Esparrago who opened the scoring in the 53rd minute, dribbling down the sideline and angling a shot to the far post.
The match remained close, and physical at times, until the 67th minute when senior Brandon Smith sent a nicely placed ball across the field to Esparrago, who rolled the ball in the opposite direction, past the outstretched arms of Greenville Tech's keeper Jim Hensen, for a 2-0 lead.
Less than three minutes later, Esparrago completed the hat trick when he corralled a high, loose ball in front of the net and knocked in the final goal, his 33rd of the season.
"We talked about controlling the ball, keeping it down," Cole said. "Then they started coming after the ball in numbers and leaving [Esparrago] in one-on-one situations. That's what we want - he's faster than anybody."
Cole also said he was impressed with the way Smith and senior Luke Lambert stepped up with assists from the backfield.
Indian Land goalkeeper, junior Patrick Sweatt, posted his seventh shutout of the season, and said playing Greenville Tech for the third time this season really elevated the level of competition.
"There was a big difference in this game from the other two," Sweatt said. "We were definitely pumped up for this one. I think we've been playing awesome and we're ready for Saturday.
Following the win, the Warriors had their chance to prove they deserved a higher seed Saturday at second-seeded Southside Christian, but had to play the game without Esparrago, who missed the trip because of family issues, and played most of the match without starter Michael Cook, who received two yellow cards in the first half.
The Warriors were never able to muster the offense without two of their top players, and were knocked out 4-0.
"I'm really proud of these guys because they had a great season," Cole said. "The seniors did an awesome job for us this year and accomplished something that's never been done here-having an undefeated (regular) season in soccer. I just really wish (today's match) could have turned differently for them."
Lambert said even though the season was both successful and disappointing in the end, he was proud of his team as well.
"We've matured a ton since the beginning of the season," Lambert said. "Going undefeated [in the regular season] was like a dream. I couldn't have asked for anything more except a state championship."