Most Popular Stories

Prep soccer playoffs begin Wednesday


Sports Writer

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Southern Nash boys’ soccer coach Carlos Barron comes from a sports background that always emphasized the importance of defense.

Playing football, Barron understood that the team that had the strongest defense would routinely find ways to win. So when Barron took over the Firebirds soccer team in 2016, he brought with him that defensive mentality.

Southern Nash (16-4-2) recently completed its third winning season in Barron’s four years, and earned the No. 19 seed in the Class 3-A playoffs that begin on Wednesday. The Firebirds open the first round on the road at 6 p.m. against Big East Conference rival and 14th seeded Franklinton (19-5-1).

The Firebirds only allowed more than two goals in a game twice this season, with one of those times coming in a game that required double overtime. Never have they allowed more than three goals.

“It’s hard for the other team to win if they don’t score,” said Barron, whose team allowed 29 goals over 22 games. “Our philosophy is to make them work for it, put the pressure on them. Shut them down and then do the best that you can at the offensive end.”

The offense has been stellar as well in scoring 71 goals, led by Rubinson Ochoa’s 18. Teammate Juan Gonzalez finished with 15 goals, and three more players had at least five apiece.

“This is a really good group we have,” Ochoa said. “And this year I wanted to step up my game and go all out for my senior year. But no matter what I do we don’t get here without a good effort from the whole team. It feels like one of the best seasons I’ve been a part of.”

Southern Nash has the challenge of facing a first-round playoff opponent that resides in its own conference. The two teams are quite familiar, having played three times in October.

Each game was decided by one goal, with Franklinton winning the most recent two after the Firebirds won the first matchup.

“It’s basically been a playoff atmosphere between us for about two or three weeks now,” Barron said.

And that will continue, for at least one more day.

No. 25 Rocky Mount High at No. 8 Southern Lee, 6 p.m.

The Gryphons are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when they qualified as the final seed in Class 3-A.

RMH (13-5-2) completely turned around the direction of the program with a standout 2019 season under coach Andrew Nick, who is in his second stint as the head man for the Gryphons.

The Gryphons posted their first winning season in at least 10 years, and they did so in dominant fashion.

A year ago RMH scored 26 goals and allowed 59 as part of a 4-14-1 season. This year, the Gryphons have scored 66 and allowed just 23. Players credit newfound confidence as well as a new formation which allows sweeper Ben Sieracki to be in better position to defend opponents who find their way past the Gryphons’ back line.

“The formation change helped us out,” Sieracki said. “Like, if someone got through I would already be there instead of having to chase. And the mentality the team had every game gave us some fire and helped keep us in every game.”

Nick, meanwhile, credits his players who approach the game with an enthusiastic and tough playing style that grew as the season progressed. Players like Sieracki, Quintin Mangano and Gabriel Asbell (all seniors) helped to usher Nick’s message along while buying in themselves.

The play has been night and day from last season.

“They always had the potential,” Nick said at practice on Tuesday. “We just had to unlock it by putting them in the right positions to succeed.”

The Gryphons ran off an undefeated non-conference schedule (8-0-1), which players said set the tone for the rest of the season. Those eight wins doubled the amount of wins in all of last season, while the 44 non-conference goals had RMH way past its 2018 season total.

Still, RMH will face a tough test in Southern Lee (14-3-2), which went undefeated in the Tri-County Conference standings. The Cavaliers have allowed just 18 goals all season while scoring 78.

Southern Lee hasn’t lost since Sept. 18, which was its final loss of the season and capped a slow 1-3-1 start. And while the Cavaliers are playing good soccer, the Gryphons are as confident as ever.

“The change in mentality was incredible,” senior goalkeeper Lucas Martinez said. “We went from coming into the season thinking that we were going to lose every game because that’s basically what we did last year, and Coach Nick brought some confidence and we believed that we could win every game.”

No. 21 Tarboro at No. 12 Research Triangle, 6 p.m. at Mills Park, Cary

The Vikings won seven of their final eight games of the season, including the final two to advance to the Class 1-A postseason.

Tarboro (8-6-1) is outscoring opponents 47-37 this season.

The Raptors (14-7) enter on a three-game winning streak and have outscored opponents, 81-53.