Charlotte Catholic matched tenacity and defense to score its biggest soccer win of the season.
The Cougars’ defensive strategy and stellar goalkeeping by sophomore Sean Pratt propelled Catholic, No. 4 in the Sweet 16, to a 1-0 win in a nonconference match at No. 1 Garinger. The Cougars, who improved to 4-0-1, did some of their best work after midfielder Ben Stockley pushed Catholic into the lead in the 20th minute.
“This is huge because we could never get forward and score goals,” Catholic coach Oscar Del Pino said. “We’ve been doing that in pretty much every game this season. Our real challenge to ourselves was could we have a mistake-free night and if we made mistakes would we make up for them.”
Whatever errors Catholic made, they were erased on defense. When Garinger (3-1-1) turned up the attack over the final 15 minutes, Pratt responded by stopping Wildcats’ scoring opportunities, including a diving stop of Tresor Mbuyu’s penalty kick in the 77th minute.
“We’d start fouling and they would start getting free kicks within the last 20 yards and our wall would just stay there,” Pratt said. “In the last eight minutes they had one ding off the sidebar that I thought was going in and the free kick, I thought that was going in as well. “That (penalty kick) I just tried to get in (Mbuyu’s) head as much as possible.”
Mbuyu, a quick-striking forward, paced Garinger’s attack, but Catholic deployed waves of defenders to get between him and the goal. It was enough to frustrate the Wildcats.
“We came in with a pretty specific game plan because we’ve seen these guys before,” Del Pino said. “They’re pretty talented, and we thought we matched up pretty well with them.”
Stockley scored on a right-footed blast that bounced off a Garinger defender into the goal. The Cougars controlled the tempo for most of the first half with a quick-moving, opportunistic attack. The Wildcats had chances to draw even but couldn’t convert them into goals.
“They’re a really good team,” Pratt said. “They’re strong and they’ve got guys up top, and we had to sit back and either press the ball or sit back because they’d beat us on the run. It just proved that we’re capable of so much more when we play as a team, which we did.”
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