By Ruben Lowman
“‘Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try, try again, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
A big rivalry game last week against Myrtle Beach gave the North Myrtle Beach Chiefs boys soccer team plenty of lessons to learn, as they controlled the proceedings but failed to convert a few chances and saw the tide turn against them.
The Chiefs and Seahawks met in Little River last Tuesday night, March 22, with both senior-led teams gunning for a shot at the region title, anchored by a strong core of upperclassmen providing the leadership, discipline, toughness and goals.
Games between the bitter rivals are also typically about more than just bragging rights, with regional championships and playoff positions routinely on the line when they face each other.
This season is no different.
An early opportune goal by Myrtle Beach senior striker Matti Ott saw the Seahawks take a quick 1-0 lead.
The Chiefs started working the ball up to striker Gavin Cartwright, playing up top with Ben Lewis and Luca Testa to his left and right.
After patient build-up play between Chiefs attacking midfielders Jesse Foster and Kyle Nicholl moved the ball into Seahawks territory and up to Cartwright, he continuously looked to lay it off to his teammates making forward runs from deep.
NMB unlocked the defense in the 22nd minute, with Nicholl displaying some fancy footwork to get by a couple of Seahawks defenders, before shooting just wide from the right side of the penalty area. Lewis, playing on the left wing, then floated in a cross that was barely out of the grasp of a diving Cartwright.
After some nice combination play through the middle, a quick one-two allowed Foster to pick out Testa in a pocket of space. Testa then played through Braydon Baeli on the right side of the box. After a nice pirouette took Baeli past his Seahawks marker, the Chiefs right back placed his effort on target but the keeper made a good stop to deny him.
The Chiefs were in full attacking flow. Then the sucker punch.
That nearly effort was followed closely by a 30th minute goal from Ott, who finished with four of Myrtle Beach’s goals on the night.
But the Chiefs fired right back with a superb 33rd minute goal by left-footed Lewis. Again, a well-weighted ball from Foster out of midfield released one of his teammates, this time Lewis getting played through out in space on the left. The winger then raced by his defender and sent a driven cross into the box, finding Nicholl making a forward run. After Nicholl’s wicked effort stung the keeper’s palms, Lewis’ quick thinking meant he was right on hand to stab in the rebound.
The home crowd was on their feet and Highway 90 was rocking.
The Chiefs controlled the proceedings throughout the first half, dominating possession and looking to play through the Seahawks compact defense. Myrtle Beach mostly looked to sit deep and play on the break.
The Seahawks didn’t see very much of the ball in the first half but soccer is a game of fine margins and they took advantage of the opportunities they had. Score was 2-1 at halftime to the Seahawks.
Right off the bat Testa drove to the byline to open the second half and found Foster with a cutback but his effort was just over the crossbar.
A cagey ten minutes followed that saw both teams trade possession and fouls, along with a few choice words exchanged between players.
All to be expected in a big Chiefs vs. Seahawks game under the bright lights.
NMB central defenders Jay Langeneck and Shane Monahan showed their mettle at the back, as well as their patience in possession, looking to build play progressively and find the open man in space.
One-touch link-up play by Langeneck and Foster then saw Testa get a half-chance, but Testa’s well-contested effort from the right side of the box was saved.
Out of nothing, a ball played over the top to Ott got Myrtle Beach behind the backline and in a one-on-one with Chiefs goalkeeper Nolan Long. Long reacted well and came out quick and decisively to meet the Seahawks striker, but Ott gave him no chance as he put it through Long’s legs to make the score 3-1 with half an hour left on the clock.
A heart-wrenching 56th minute goal off a set piece by Seahawks sophomore midfielder Diego Perez-Castillo then made it 4-1 to Myrtle Beach.
All-action attacking midfielder Foster looked to drive the Chiefs on no matter the scoreline. He chased every loose ball and closed down the Seahawks in his final home game against NMB’s biggest rivals. He clearly wanted to motivate his fellow senior teammates, and it quickly bore results.
Clever footwork by Nicholl again saw him drive into the heart of the defense and release Chiefs winger Chad Topping down the right, but Topping’s lofted cross into the box just missed the head of Cartwright.
An excellent smother save by Long at the 66th minute kept the Chiefs within striking distance, Long coming out quick to meet Ott again and make the angle difficult. This time Long got the better of him. Unfortunately, his top-drawer save also saw him get injured and have to watch the final 15 minutes sitting on the bench.
The Chiefs didn’t give up, however.
And their never-say-die attitude quickly rewarded them for their efforts, with Foster once again right at the middle of it all for NMB.
Good footwork from Foster saw him draw a penalty, which the captain stepped up and took himself, calmly slotting it past Seahawks sophomore goalkeeper Ricky Escobar and into the corner with 12 minutes left on the clock.
That goal gave the Chiefs a lifeline in the emotional match, sending the crowd into a frenzy as it grew more chippy. The home crowd was fired up after an emotional game heavy on fouls and trash talk, including in the run up to the game.
The Chiefs poured forward in search of a way back.
After a nearly effort from a set piece fell in the box but just out of Foster and Langeneck’s grasps, the Seahawks played a ball over the top, Ott slotted the effort away to make it 5-2 and they saw the remainder of the game out.
NMB played the better soccer throughout the match, but the result was still a difficult pill to swallow for the team, especially given the emotions that drive any rivalry game with Myrtle Beach.
The Chiefs were hit with a bit of adversity, but they can use the emotional loss as fuel to motivate them as they head into the second half of region play and with marquee rematches coming next week against West Florence and to close out the regular season at Myrtle Beach.
Some things haven’t quite gone their way recently, but lessons can be learned that will pay off as it moves closer towards the state playoffs.
“The loss to Myrtle Beach is just a stepping stone for us moving forward,” Cartwright said. “We can learn from our mistakes as a team and bounce back stronger when we see them again at the end of the season.”
The perfect medicine for a bit of adversity is success. The Chiefs got that and more last Friday against Hartsville, getting back to Chiefs soccer and dominating the opposition, winning 4-0 at Kellytown Stadium.
Cartwright enjoyed a hat-trick and sophomore defender Monahan chipped in with a goal of his own to crown a dominant performance that got the Chiefs back to what they do best: winning big while playing attacking soccer.
“Scoring a hat-trick my senior year was surreal. It was everything you could ever hope for as a striker, especially in high school,” said Cartwright. “I enjoyed every moment.”
NMB’s big win in Hartsville was the first step along the way to getting back on track. They now move to 7-4 overall and are just behind Myrtle Beach at 5-2 in Region VI-4A.
“The victory against Hartsville was a good confidence booster after the rough losses the weeks before,” Cartwright said. “After this win we should be back to our standards and ready for whatever challenge we face.”
The Chiefs can take a few deep breaths now, refocus and get back to winning ways while playing their aesthetically-pleasing brand of soccer. They can take heart in the fact that they will be stronger knowing they have made it through a difficult period, and in life it’s how you respond to these situations that matters.
The Chiefs boys were also out last Saturday afternoon at Sandhills Bank putting on a car wash fundraiser for the team. In just two hours, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., they brought in more than $15,000 for the program.
Looking into this week, on Tuesday night the Chiefs will be hosting South Florence, who sit one spot behind them in the region. The Bruins are paced by junior forwards LaNorris Sellers and Gabriel Gerschutz, who have combined for 22 goals on the season so far. NMB will want to keep up with the threat they offer.
A road game at Wilson on Friday follows, with the Tigers having been downed 4-0 by the Chiefs in Little River earlier in the season. Freshman striker Samuel Floyd provides the threat at the top for Wilson, with Chiefs defenders Langeneck and Monahan tasked with stopping him.
“We want to show our fans what we’re made of – the heart and dedication we’ve had for each other so far and what is to follow the rest of the season,” said Cartwright.