BECKLEY, W.Va. — Going all that way, and finishing as close as it gets.
Playing in the state tournament for the first time since 1993, the third-seeded Point Pleasant boys soccer team was tied with second-seeded Charleston Catholic at halftime, at the end of regulation, and at the end of both overtime sessions on Friday night at the Carter Family Foundation Field in Raleigh County. The Irish, however, claimed a 4-2 edge in penalty kicks, securing their spot in Saturday’s Class AA-A championship match.
The Black Knights (14-5-4) — which had won eight straight decisions headed into the state semifinal — got on the board first, with a long-range shot from Braxton Watkins-Lovejoy deflecting off the Charleston Catholic (9-1) goal keeper before bouncing into the net 11:57 into play.
Point Pleasant’s string of four consecutive shut outs came to an end with 10:11 left in the first half, as an Aidan Paul free kick from near midfield found the back right corner of the goal and tied the match at one.
Charleston Catholic earned a 8-to-4 edge in shots in the first half, and followed it up with an 11-to-3 advantage in shots in the second half.
The Black Knights were limited to 10 players for the final 9:30 of regulation, and all of overtime. Charleston Catholic was responsible for both of shots in the first 10-minute overtime session, but came up empty on both. Both teams fired twice in the second overtime, but the match remained tied at one, and was to be decided on penalty kicks.
The Irish went first, with and Kelen Swan made the shot. Watkins-Lovejoy led off with a goal for the Black Knights, tying the tally at one.
Each keeper stopped the respective second penalty kicks, but Paul made Charleston Catholic’s next kick for a 2-1 lead. After another stop by the Irish, Wil Swan made it 3-1 CCHS. Ian Wood kept Point Pleasant alive, making his kick to trim the tally to 3-2. However, Zion Suddeth made the next attempt, clinching the victory for Charleston Catholic.
Each team had three corner kicks in the match. PPHS senior Luke Pinkerton picked up 11 saves in goal, while John Patnoe stopped three shots for the Irish.
Following the match, fifth-year Point Pleasant head coach Chip Wood commended his team’s defense, and noted the added pressure once the Black Knights were limited to 10 players.
“Our keeper and our four in front, our four-diamond, they absolutely played outstanding,” Coach Wood said. “They played 100 minutes of soccer, and didn’t allow a goal in the run of play. (Charleston Catholic) got the free kick, that’s how they scored.
“We were under a lot of pressure when we went down to 10 men, and we had to change things up a little bit, we weren’t able to play the kind of game we wanted to. They kept pressing us back, and so we started just relieving the pressure, playing a little direct, playing a little boom-ball, and getting the ball out into space.”
Watkins-Lovejoy — a senior who also scored Point Pleasant’s only goal in the regional final — talked about the feeling of giving his team the lead in the state semifinal, and the ultimate heart-break that followed.
“That first goal was just amazing, knowing we’re up, trying to hold them down and get the win 1-0,” Watkins-Lovejoy said. “It’s just emotional, my last year to lose on PKs, I’m just sad to lose and leave.”
Pinkerton — a senior whose 11 saves mark his career-high — admitted that his soccer career was uncertain at times, but playing was undoubtedly the right decision.
“I’ve had the best time of my life playing with this group,” Pinkerton said. “I didn’t even know if I was going to play my sophomore year, but I’m glad I came out. And actually, I didn’t even know if I was going to play this year, or even start as a matter of fact. This is my first year back being goalie, and I had the best time ever.”
Captain of the Black Knights, senior Adam Veroski, reflected on his journey with the Black Knights, from being unsure what role he’d fill on the team as a freshman, to leading PPHS back to the state tournament after a 27-year absence.
“I came in here freshman year, I didn’t even know if I was going to get on the field the first day, I was just preparing to be a part of the team,” Veroski said. “You know, its been a helluva career. I’m so proud to be a part of this team, everybody on this team growing as a person, becoming a man. I’m proud to be their captain, and I’m proud to be from Point Pleasant.”
While the final result wasn’t what was hoped for, Coach Wood praised the Black Knights for leaving it all on the field, as well as growing throughout the campaign.
“Our guys absolutely played their hearts out,” Coach Wood said. “I’m really super proud of all the guys, they did wonderful. I couldn’t be happier with the progress and the things that we did this year, we had a great season.”
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Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.