CHARLOTTE – At the end of the season, it’s not going to matter that Charlotte Catholic let a two-goal lead evaporate in the second half while Providence played a man down in a recent game.
The 3-3 tie will look good to some with the Cougars dominating the Panthers in the first half and early in the second, before conditioning and a relentless Providence attack reversed course as they became the aggressor.
“Kudos to them for keeping the pressure up and especially being a man down,” Catholic coach Oscar Del Pino said. “But I told my guys at halftime that being a man down isn’t really an advantage. From a defensive perspective, it doesn’t change anything. Offensively, it’s just a level of commitment.”
The out-of-conference draw doesn’t mean much in the long run, but Del Pino is hopeful the pace of the match and late-game letdown will stick with the team as they go forward.
“We schedule these games because this is preparation for the playoffs and what it’s going to look like in a month and a half,” Del Pino said. “Once we start conference, it’s out of my hands so I pick these games up to see the quality and to see what it’s going to look like in the playoffs.”
The Panthers struck first in the game, but Catholic reeled off three straight scores to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
First, Andrew Kanney tied the game at one just under three minutes after the Panthers had taken their first lead.
Senior Patrick Fenton, the Cougars leading scorer this season, opened the second half by fielding a ball in the box off the bounce and sneaking it past the keeper for a 2-1 advantage.
Just 24 seconds later, with 35:55 left in the match, Fenton scored again, this time catching the keeper out of position and sliding a ball across the goal and past the outstretched leg of a Panther defender for the 3-1 advantage, but that’s when things started to take a bad turn.
“It was a little weird in that second half, but it was a fair result considering. They are a very good team and they have a ton of good forwards. They have some of the best attacking players we’ve seen this year for sure,” Del Pino said. “We were really done in by fitness. Our two center backs have been battle wagons all year. They played 80 minutes each night, but the game got way too fast, way too wide open and way too much running, so you end up with what we ended up with guys shuttling off the field and falling all over the place.”
The Panthers attacked relentlessly and forced four or five Catholic players to the sidelines with cramps and other injuries. There were also several yellow cards handed out during the game on both sides as each team played chippy down the stretch.
“We didn’t make the most of our chances and our set pieces considering the opportunity, so it was a fair result based on the effort level,” Del Pino said. “But I was proud of how we played. We played well in the first half until the man in the middle let the game get away from him a little bit, but we’ll take this and learn from it and grow from it.”
The Cougars (8-0-2) have since reeled off three straight shutouts.
On Sept. 11, the Cougars blanked Piedmont behind two goals apiece from Fenton and Kanney and solo scores from Ryan Bayadi and Chris Cooper.
Like they’ve been doing all season, the Cougars rotated between senior goalkeepers Andrew Gilles and Benton Lowder, who combined on the shutout.
The following day, the Cougars beat Country Day 2-0 behind goals from Fenton and Will Murlless. Kanney had both of the assists, and Lowder and Gilles kept a clean sheet.
On Sept. 16, the Cougars shutout Cuthbertson 2-0 as Bayadi had a goal and an assist and Luis Abril scored the other goal.
The keepers once again combined on the shutout, and Del Pino said they will continue to use both as they begin to traverse the Southern Carolinas that features defending state champion Marvin Ridge and powers Weddington and Cuthbertson.
The Cougars expect to be right in that mix, too.