A few weeks ago, Greene Central senior midfielder Nathan Drake said the Rams had enough talent to make a deep run in the state 2A soccer playoffs.
Call Drake a prophet, because now, the Rams will play for a state championship this weekend.
Drake tallied both goals – one in each half – as Greene Central shut out Manteo 2-0 in the East 2A Regional finals Tuesday night on their home pitch.
The Rams improved to 25-1 and are the highest-seeded team (second) remaining. They will play Shelby (23-1-2), a No. 4 seed who beat Lincolnton 1-0 in the West Regional final, either Friday or Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary.
“This is so cool, so incredible; I don’t know how to describe it,” Drake said as the near-packed house cheered behind him. “I’ve been playing with these boys since I was little, and it’s really special to come in here, everybody put their all in it and we get the results we wanted – making the states for the first time in school history.”
Greene Central’s speed and aggressiveness on offense paid off in both halves, and the defense was stellar in allowing only a handful of Manteo shots throughout the match.
“We’ve talked about getting that first goal and then putting pressure on Manteo because we knew they would be strong,” Drake said. “The second goal pretty much got rid of any chance they were coming back.”
Ariel Nunez had a couple of early chances for the Rams, but one shot hit the crossbar and another sailed over the goal in the first 12 minutes.
Manteo (14-4-1), the No. 4 seed, battled GC defensively until less than five minutes remained in the first half.
Sophomore defender Miguel Lopez-Berrios took the ball away from a Manteo midfielder and passed to Jose Morquecho, who flipped a pass to Nunez. Nunez crossed to Drake, whose left-footed shot got past the Redskins goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead with 4:40 left.
“Our defense was phenomenal and they were the key to this win,” Drake said. “We knew Manteo was a great attacking team so we had to be composed and move the ball up top so we could score.”
Drake’s header with 22:30 left in the match was stopped, but he made his next one count with 11:40 left in the contest when Manteo couldn’t clear a pass from senior midfielder Eduardo Gonzalez into the box.
All that was left was for the Rams to play defense, which they did. Manteo managed only three shots in the second stanza.
As the time grew shorter, the Greene Central crowd grew louder as a state finals appearance for the first time was within reach.
The celebration was capped at midfield after the awards presentation when first-year head coach Ricardo Arias was doused with the Gatorade bucket.
“The matches we’ve had difficulty with, we adapted to what the other team was doing,” he said. “This is our home and we needed to get them to play the way we play. Our defenders read the ball well.”
Several minutes later, Arias was still in a bit of disbelief.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “I’m the middle school coach too, and I’ve seen all these guys since they were sixth, seventh and eighth graders, so now to see them as seniors and how far they’ve come – not only have they’ve become better athletes but better people – this is one of those special feelings I’m going to hold onto. Off to states we go.”
Drake reiterated his coach’s thoughts.
“It’s so cool and I am so happy to be a part of it and so proud of everyone on this team,” he said. “Hopefully, if we play our game (in the finals), we can bring a championship home.”
Greene Central will go into the finals having won 12 straight matches. The only loss came to Class 4A D.H. Conley.
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL John Paul II 37 Neuse Christian 36
John Paul started the season with a tight victory on the road at Neuse Christian in Raleigh on Monday.
Junior Dana Galinis poured in 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked a shot to lead the Saints (1-0). Freshman Ari Atkinson chipped in 11 points and sophomore Ramsey Cureton seven points, three steals and three assists in the win.
BOYS’ BASKETBALL John Paul II 90 Neuse Christian 59
Senior newcomer Jude Wisman-Raven scored 27 points, 15 of them on 3-pointers, to lead the Saints to an opening-night rout of Neuse Christian on Monday.
Fellow senior Elijah Eger added 17 and juniors Tyler Nelson and Joey Koesters added 13 and 12, respectively.
Saints named all-stars
The inaugural N.C. vs. Va. 8-Man Football All-Star Game will be held this Saturday at the Dinwiddie Sports Complex in Sutherland, Va.
John Paul II’s Sean Murphy was chosen to be the head coach for Team North Carolina, and JPII seniors Elijah Eger and Will McMinn will participate as players.
The intention is for the game to alternate between the two states each year.
The roster for Team North Carolina also includes a slew of Parrott Academy players:
Morgan McPhaul, Michael Outlaw, Wyatt Powley, Noah Miller, Cole Dawson, Thomas Newhall, Matthew Radford, Hodges Manning and Coley Howard.