First Posted: 1/15/2009
FAYETTEVILLE - The Lumberton girls soccer team stepped off the field at Terry Sanford having just lost its second consecutive Two Rivers Conference tournament championship game to the Bulldogs.
As a consolation, the Pirates earned a 4-A state playoff date with Cary, the third-place team from the notoriously tough Tri-Eight Conference.
Cary (9-9-2) competes in the same conference as Apex, a 4-A powerhouse that’s one of the top contenders for a state title. Lumberton coach Kenny Simmons said that the Triangle has traditionally produced strong teams, and he knows that his Pirates will have their hands full when the two teams meet at Lumberton on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“I think the top two seeds from (the Two Rivers Conference) got the toughest draws in the playoffs,” Simmons said. “It’s always tough when you face one of those Triangle-area teams.”
Terry Sanford coach Lee Spruill agrees with Simmons’ assessment. The Bulldogs, who defeated Lumberton in two of three meetings this season, have to open the 4-A state playoffs against Athens Drive, the fourth seed from the Tri-Eight. After Terry Sanford’s win last week, Spruill breathed a sigh of relief.
“I knew I didn’t want to face the No. 3 seed from that conference,” he said.
Simmons has tried to prepare his team for the type of competition it will face in the state playoffs. He dotted his team’s out-of-conference schedule with tough, playoff-bound opponents. For instance, after the Pirates’ final Two Rivers contest of the regular season, Lumberton traveled to Clayton for a non-conference matchup. The Pirates lost the game 3-0.
“These are the types of teams that we’re going to face come playoff time,” Simmons said prior to facing Clayton. “It’s just a good test for us.”
While Simmons thought his team would be ready for the playoffs, he did have some worries about distractions heading into Wednesday’s game. Lumberton High’s prom was last weekend, and Simmons warned his players about being careful if they attended the event.
“They’ll be fine,” Simmons said. “It’s just a distraction. Hopefully, they’ll come back and we’ll be able to have a couple of days of practice before we play on Wednesday.”
Another possible worry for Simmons was Lumberton’s play against Terry Sanford in the conference tournament championship game. Up until that contest, the Pirates seemed to have found their footing offensively after struggling to find a consistent scoring attack all season. Striker Morgan Haskins had become a particularly dangerous goal-scorer in the season’s final weeks.
But in its third contest against Terry Sanford, Lumberton didn’t look like the same team that had destroyed the Bulldogs just a few weeks before. Simmons owed much of that to adjustments made by Spruilll. The coach also blamed some of it on nerves, which could again be a factor come playoff season due to the Pirates’ relative youth.