Lancaster has the inside track to the Region 3-3A boys’ soccer championship after a 1-0 win over South Pointe Tuesday night.
Ninth grader Christian Diaz scored the only goal of the contest in the first half and the Bruins’ dogged defense saw off the hosts’ second half onslaught for a crucial win.
South Pointe (6-7) was the class of the league last season but graduation hit the Stallions hard. Twelve seniors left and now Lancaster is clamoring for a chance to win the region in its final year of existence.
“This is the seventh time I’ve played South Pointe and they beat us 7-2 last year,” said first-year Lancaster coach Adam Nelson. “This is a big win for us.”
Lancaster (5-4) now sits on top of a region known more for its gridiron prowess than its football acumen. The other four schools in Region 3-3A entered Tuesday night’s games a combined 4-19.
The Bruins defended tirelessly, even if they made things harder for themselves at various points of the second half. But a Lancaster player was always in the right position to put his foot through the ball and knock it into the corner of the narrow South Pointe field. It was no thing of beauty, but it worked.
“All I told them in the second half was to get the ball out of our half,” said Nelson.
South Pointe sophomore Alex Barnes was bright for the Stallions. He latched on to a loose ball with 11 minutes played, but fired straight at Lancaster keeper Ben Rivers. Moments later, a quick turn freed the sophomore, but Rivers kept out Barnes’ awkward shot that bounced right in front of the keeper.
South Pointe produced the rest of the half’s legitimate scoring chances but couldn’t covert. B.T. Potter’s long throw found Barnes at the back post; his header beat Rivers but just cleared the goal. Barnes then put a curling pass into Grady Bolton’s run, but at the crucial moment he stumbled and the Lancaster defense recovered to scramble clear.
Diaz’s first half goal put the Bruins in front, and they nearly added a second in the second half. With South Pointe chasing an equalizer, Tyler Deese tracked down a long clearance, cut inside on his left foot and pinged a shot off the crossbar that would’ve killed off the game. There were a few more moments for Nelson and his bench to hold its breath, but Lancaster emerged with the win at the final whistle.
“It’s a rebuilding year. It always is after you lose 12 seniors,” said South Pointe coach Colby Parnell. “But it’s something you’ve got to move on from.”
Lancaster took the lead somewhat against the run of play. In the 14th minute, Deese launched a left wing free kick into the penalty area and Bruins ninth grader Diaz planted a looping header into the far corner of the goal for a 1-0 Lancaster lead.
Several South Pointe players lost their cool in the first half over refereeing decisions. Parnell spent his halftime talk imploring his team to brush off perceived officiating slights.
“With a young team, you’ve gotta’ kind of remind them you can’t be referees, and no matter what, you’re not gonna change the call,” said Parnell. “Something they’ve got to learn.”
Trevor Latham was key to Lancaster’s shutout, the senior captain blasting the ball away any time South Pointe threatened. Diaz was also very good, especially on the ball. He’s the team’s dead-ball taker, but scored on the only one he didn’t take Tuesday night.
“He’s got incredible foot skills,” said Nelson. “It’s ridiculous.”
South Pointe faces Buford on the road Thursday before resuming Region 3-3A play Friday against Union County; Lancaster visits region foe Clinton Friday. South Pointe and Lancaster meet again on April 26 in a match that will probably decide the region champ.
“We’ll be ready,” Parnell said with a grin.
Lancaster 1, South Pointe 0
LHS: Christian Diaz (14)
Shutout: Ben Rivers