Wildcats' season comes to an end in 2-0 loss to Tigers

A set-piece goal sent New Hanover into the fourth round of the NCHSAA 3A Playoffs.

On Saturday, the No. 1 Wildcats experienced the other side of the spectrum, giving up two set-piece goals in a 2-0 loss to No. 12 Chapel Hill. It was the second time this season the defending state champions beat New Hanover by that score line.

"We pride ourselves on the little things, so it's disappointing to give up two goals like that when we fell asleep," said New Hanover head coach TJ Rennie. "You can't win a game against a team like Chapel Hill giving up two set-piece goals."

New Hanover (15-4-2) started the game well, and Charlie Letson got the first shot on target with a volley that look destined for the left corner of the goal, but Chapel Hill goalie Matthew Wold made a diving save.

Nine minutes into the match, the Tigers (20-3-1) struck first.

Kevin Morales got on the end of a corner kick and headed the ball past Al Cavagnaro for a 1-0 lead.

"It was a bit deflating in the manner they scored. We aren't used to giving up goals off corner kicks like that," Rennie said.

Morales' goal was just one example of Chapel Hill's dominance in the air Saturday. The Tigers won nearly every aerial battle, especially in the midfield off goal kicks and long clearances.

"They surprised us with how good they were in the air," Rennie said. "We didn't really expect that, and it was a clear advantage for them gaining possession every time the ball was launched downfield."

Chapel Hill put the nail in the coffin with 20 minutes remaining in the math. A free kick was lofted just over the New Hanover wall and onto the run of Ryan Smith, who only needed a soft touch to put the ball in the back of the net.

The Wildcats couldn't find a rhythm in the second half and only had one great opportunity to halve the deficit. Reed Franck, who moved from center back to striker when the Wildcats went down 2-0, pushed a shot just wide with only the goalie in front of him and a Chapel Hill defender applying pressure from behind.

Franck was one of three New Hanover players who battled injuries Saturday. Selden Baldwin and Landon James each had to miss considerable time, and in the end weren't able to impact in any major way.