HHS Bearcats celebrate their signature win of ’17, a 2-1 playoff thriller at East Henderson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
HHS (13-3-2) then fell in round three to Belmont South Point 4-0 at home, in a match of the West Region’s 12th and 13th seeds.
Before bowing out in round three, the only two prior HHS losses were both to East (18-3-1) and by one goal. The first loss was by 2-1 at East on Oct. 9, then 1-0 Oct. 25 at HHS. That second game was scoreless until the final four seconds, when the Eagles scored for a very dramatic triumph.
Payback was sweet for its timing — in playoffs — and as it was in a hard-fought comeback Nov. 4 at East. Several Bearcats said they were elated to finally beat East this season, for a signature win that made their season.
Both teams had a taste of close pressure-packed playoff soccer, in their openers. The Eagles beat North Surry in overtime, while HHS edged East Gaston 1-0 at home. The Bearcats matched their football team, by reaching round three of playoffs.
The Eagles were unbeaten on E.L. Justus Field’s new turf, before losing to HHS. Coach Aaron Chappell’s crew was champion of the all-2A Mountain Six, at 10-0. HHS went 8-2 and was two games up on the other four teams.
Average scores for the entire season were 3.36- 1.18 for East, and 2.11-0.83 for HHS. Thus, Hendersonville scoring twice against East was a major accomplishment in the playoff showdown. East averaged more than a goal more on offense.
Nick Hart’s winning header sails toward the goal. Hart is in the air, with hair swirling. The ball is in front of the two players nearest the net. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
It is tough to get past East’s array stocky midfielder-like ball controllers. East packs extra players on defense, and is very good in “man marking” double teams on defense, said HHS’ Nick Hart and Jack Moss. They were the Bearcat goal scorers in the win over East.
East led 1-0 at halftime. Senior Ronaldo “Rony” Alvarenga dribbled through the Bearcats for a closer shot, and scored 12 minutes before intermission. The Eagles had possession in the HHS end for much of the first half, and early into the second half. And as the second-half clock wound down, pressure mounted on HHS to score.
But head coach Mark Sullivant’s Bearcats stepped up as the second half progressed, then seized momentum. The Cats suddenly struck twice in the second half, after controlling the ball in the East zone. Sullivant credited sheer willpower, as much as focus on fundamentals.
Junior Jack Moss tied the game. Bearcat fans kept up vocal support after that. The go-ahead tally came soon after that, with nine minutes to go.
Nick Hart notched the goal. The senior smacked it off of his head and shoulder, as he got free for a pass nearing point-blank range. Senior Tanner Gilliam assisted on both HHS tallies.
Goalkeeper Quinn Boeke, a senior, closed the door on the Eagles for the 2-1 victory.
Nick Hart, at left, and Jack Moss scored the goals in the final HHS victory. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Much HHS confidence stems from coaching, they said, and the program’s heritage such as back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Back then, Bryan Aguirre was the star Bearcat scorer and HHS had a few other go-to players.
This time the Cats spread the statistical joy with teamwork and a very balanced attack, led by junior Jackson Carter’s 14 goals.
Some Eagle fans said they were surprised their team lost, feeling they had a clear edge in overall skill. Their team was seeded fifth, which is seven spots better than HHS.
There is much soccer cultural heritage and pride among the Eagles, with 20 of 22 Eagles listed on their roster on MaxPreps having Hispanic names. The soccer playoff versus HHS was noisy in stands. Fans of both sides blowing loud, long plastic horns as is by now a global soccer tradition.
HHS won at East in varsity football, two nights before in a rare televised Thursday night game.
Last season in soccer, West Henderson boys won the conference (then the WNCAC), beating all contenders but East. In the offseason the Falcons shifted along with North Henderson and Tuscola into the larger-school, all-3A WMAC.